Governance by Gigabytes: Accelerating Democracy by John O. McGinnis

By Kassahun, Ben | Harvard International Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Governance by Gigabytes: Accelerating Democracy by John O. McGinnis


Kassahun, Ben, Harvard International Review


Democracy is an ever-changing social experiment, devised millennia ago in Ancient Greece. Over time, the ways in which it has been implemented have changed to fit the needs of the society employing it. However, one thing has not changed: democracy makes use of technology. For a long time, this aspect of democracy allowed democratic societies to prosper and thrive, but it may now be at a precipice: unprecedented technological advancement is challenging democratic institutions all over the world, making it difficult for governments to adapt quickly enough to continue to govern effectively. In the past these governments had room to fail and recover, but with the speed at which technology is changing in the modern world, they can no longer afford mistakes. In his book Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology, Dr. John O. McGinnis brings these issues to light and proposes solutions accordingly.

McGinnis argues that the greatest aspect of the exponential change of modern technology is the growth in computation. He cites Moore's Law, which states that computation has been doubling every 18 months for the last several decades. Accordingly, McGinnis recognizes this increasing computational power allows for artificially intelligent systems to be developed and aid man in understanding the world around him to an unprecedented degree. McGinnis is perhaps a bit too optimistic with some of these predictions; he makes some exaggerated claims for future technology.

However, he also notes the drawbacks to all this progress, which has the capacity to bring about new problems that can cause irreparable damage to society. Accelerating Democracy therefore brings up the idea of regulations and how they would affect this technological, revolution. McGinnis recognizes that there is ultimately no way to stop new technologies from appearing, so he instead suggests ways to mitigate the damage they can bring about.

According to Accelerating Democracy, government must transform itself by harnessing computers' ability to analyze large amounts of data. Society now has enormous amounts of data about the world, due in large part to the Internet. McGinnis argues that we can use computing power to analyze this data, allowing us to better see the results of government policy. He refers to this form of government as a "consequentia list democracy," because government can use all the data and computing power available to it to test out the strengths and weaknesses of its policies. This would mean fewer mistakes--and smarter decisions. …

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