Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology

By John O. McGinnis | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

MOST OF US are caught up in the quickening whirl of technological change. As consumers we can readily recognize the benefits created by the quicker technological tempo—ever smarter phones, more effective medicines, and faster connections to those around us. We thrive as companies leapfrog one another to create the next new thing. We rarely pause, however, to consider what such technological progression means for our lives as citizens.

Yet the central political problem of our time is how to adapt our venerable democracy to the acceleration of the information age. Modern technology creates a supply of new tools for improved governance, but it also creates an urgent demand for putting these tools to use. We need better policies to obtain the benefits of innovation as quickly as possible and to manage the social problems that speedier innovation will inevitably create—from pollution to weapons of mass destruction.

Exponential growth in computation is driving today’s social change. The key advantage for politics is that increases in computational power dramatically improve information technology. Thus, unlike most technological innovations of the past, many innovations today directly supply new mechanisms for evaluating the consequences of social policies. Our task is to place politics progressively within the domain of information technology—to use its new or enhanced tools, such as empiricism, information markets, dispersed media, and artificial intelligence, to reinvent governance.

For instance, the Internet greatly facilitates betting pools called information or prediction markets that permit people to bet on the occurrence of future events. Such markets already gauge election results more accurately than polls do. If legalized and modestly subsidized, they could also foretell many policy results better than politicians or experts alone. We could then better predict the consequences of changes in educational policy on educational outcomes or a stimulus program on economic growth. In short, prediction markets would provide a visible hand to help guide policy choices.

The Internet today also encourages dispersed media like blogs to intensify confrontations about contending policy claims. Previously a less diverse mainstream media tended to settle for received wisdom. Our more competitive media culture permits the rapid recombination of innovative

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