Image from Bernd Helfert
SNAPSHOT; Cyberdemocracy in action "Is it just me or is the leisure palace the Consensus is growing in that park a little gauche?" Following my companions' finger, pointed some 120° up the horizon, I turned my gaze to a multi-coloured, frenetic construct expanding into an otherwise tranquil space. I stood agape, never had I seen the Consensus act in such an offensive manner. Closing my eyes to the sight I questioned the Consensus through my implants. A vast array of data appeared in my mind's eye as the sensations of my body faded to a peripheral perception, as though in the early stages of falling asleep. The information organised itself in a manner optimised for my edification, coloured networks of symbols explaining each concept and defining their relations.
This was the first time in five decades I'd felt the need to question the Consensus. For fifteen hundred years it had ran distributed throughout our hab's processors. A gestalt of intelligent software it intimately tracked activities within the hab, including the inner thoughts of its citizen members. From this data it built psychological models of all sentient beings; utilised them in millions of simulations that modelled a myriad of scenarios. On the basis of those sims it was responsible for fulfilling the legal, economical and social needs of its citizens by picking whichever option generated the most agreement. Rarely ever did more than a handful of people question these decisions; who cared if the rules, infrastructure or services in the hab changed if, when they did, it rarely was for the worst?
Absorbing the data I saw that this case was special; over the past several megaseconds the quality of the best models were going down, even taking the optimal path the Consensus was increasingly unable to satisfy everyone. A plethora of memes had been found propagating through society that could account for this, in order not to fragment the Consensus had had to provoke open disagreement, to force a level of conscious reflection that could nudge the system back towards harmony. Sighing I closed my connection and complained to my friend, "Oh great, a week of endless discussion on why we like/don't like busy parks. I can't stand politics!"
As we looked up at the horizon again the topic under discussion flashed through our implants, "Parks: Peaceful or Playful?" it asked. My notification came with a personalised suggestion list of conversation points and debate partners. It also came with the knowledge that the penalty for abstaining from this civic duty was a public condemnation for negligence in the face of growing social tension. Too many of them could get you exiled. Sighing again I began to ponder on what exactly it was I liked about parks...
Common Memories of Discord, Chapter 711
Cyberdemocracy Government by means of direct representation, and/or participation, via technological means (Internet, IPN, or LocalNet). Every citizen has a say in political and social issues. Very popular on Old Earth from the Information to the Nanotech periods, and again during the early and middle First Federation period. Even if not utilised as the highest level of government (in many places Aiocracy or Archailectocracy are the norm), cyberdemocratic systems are employed in abundance throughout the Inner Sphere and Middle Regions in a local government capacity, often as a function of a social net.
Types of cyberdemocracy The following is a short list of major forms of cyberdemocracy. There is great variation in how they are used and employed. For example; in some areas of the Terragen Sphere cyberdemocracy is used for local politics, in others for cooperative business enterprises and in some a combination of approaches is used (such as representative cyberdemocracy where the elected officials go onto use a hive mind). In some cases meta-cyberdemocracies develop whereby multiple cyberdemocratic polities are joined with an overarching cyberdemocratic system; an example could be several habitats each with a different cyberdemocracy that operate as a political union/federation through representative cyberdemocracy.
Another major concern for all democracies is how to define concepts of citizenship; this is particularly hard when dealing with distributed consciousness, dividuals, scions and hive minds. Ultimately there are a variety of unique approaches that reflect the cultural beliefs and philosophies of the society in question.
Representative Cyberdemocracy An ancient practice developed in the late Information Age. Conventional representative democratic systems are facilitated by digital methods; the first examples of this were public discussions and published opinions/commentaries on a variety of official government and social network sites. With increasingly sophisticated and intelligent software that could autonomously analyse data published on the net governments could track public opinion through comprehensive and multifaceted argument maps; this approach replaced the flawed and often impractical polling systems of before. These analyses were (and mostly still are in societies that practice this form of government) available for public scrutiny.
Such technology enabled a paradigm shift from previous democratic systems as for the first time every citizen had the chance to properly be heard as no comment was ignored by the debate summary software. More advanced versions of the software were capable of performing their own fact checking allowing popular opinions based on flawed information to be flagged appropriately.
The implementation of this technology is highly varied. A typical use is for all politicians to receive a public score ranging from -1 to 1 detailing how far they have deviated from public sentiment. In combination with cyber-mediated recall votes the system is often regarded as one that keeps politicians "gamified" to stick with popular policy.
Direct Cyberdemocracy Conforming to classical democratic principles direct cyberdemocracies allow citizen to take place in any part of government. How this is put into practice can greatly differ; simple direct cyberdemocracies usually manifest as "petition and poll" systems. Under these systems any citizen can create a petition regarding any topic that can then be debated and voted on by any other citizen. If a petition succeeds then it can become law and the angelnet will strive to implement the ruling. Early cyberdemocratic attempts were hampered by the level of bureaucracy and administration required by large societies. Whilst it was technically possible for any citizen to read about and take part in the formulation of policies the huge number of issues dealt with by government meant that even spending every hour of the day immersed in politics a citizen was unlikely to be involved in all processes. Various advances in practice and technologies were developed to mitigate these problems.
In some societies sophonts become participating citizens upon installing a hive of political vots in their exoself. These non-sophont intelligences are programed to develop a psychological model of their citizen so sophisticated that they can petition, debate and vote on matters in the interest of the citizen, mimicking how they would have behaved perfectly. This has the bonus of making partaking in government subliminal (but still available to conscious retrieval) and better still the expert systems can debate and vote on thousands of petitions per second allowing every petition to potentially receive input from every citizen. A disadvantage of this system is that citizens may miss out on experiences that may change their political opinion; some approaches get round this by introducing instructions in the programing of the expert systems to produce urgent summaries in event of something they believe would challenge their citizen's view.
More complex systems tend to combine polls and petitions with intelligent moderators. In such systems citizens can make any petition at any time however whether or not it is approved for debate and voting is decided by moderating software that creates logical argument maps of the debate, fact-checks all claims and ultimately weights whether the case for petition approval has been made. In this fashion frivolous, irrational petitions are mitigated e.g. a petition based on a faulty premise such as "make disease causing X illegal" when all the current evidence shows that X do not cause disease.
Meritocratic Cyberdemocracy Similar to direct cyberdemocracies meritocratic cyberdemocracies differ in that the voting power of each citizen can change depending on their proficiency in the topic. To facilitate this the petition and poll apparatus or software will track everything that every citizen says in a debate as well as how they voted and then compare this data to the repercussions of the outcome of the petition.
Due to this some citizens may find their voting power equal to small or even large groups of people in specific issues because much of what they have said in the past has turned out to be true in hindsight. If they start getting it wrong their weighting will decrease again (though never below the standard 1 vote per citizen). In some post-scarcity economic systems the higher a citizen's total voting power across all fields the more wealth they may receive through supramonetary approaches.
Sciocracy A form of democracy where the government is made up of scions of the citizens referred to as scionators. Usually every citizen donates a scion however this is not always the case. In the majority of systems scions undergo partial editing to ensure commitment to their role as scionators, also common is for scions to undergo intelligence amplification. The system of government most often employed is a form of consensus decision making supported by complex and varied rules, roles, tools and methods. Consensus can involve every scionator though some systems employ "vested interest metrics" which limit the extent at which scionators can be involved in decision making over certain issues, this prevents scions of citizens from different locations having too much of a say in the local issues of others. Decision making can be massively sped up by the faster time flow of government virches compared to the physical world, parallel group work using duplicate scions and dividualisation of scion governors.
Citizens can communicate to their government simply by calling upon their scionator. To keep current and ensure that a citizen's scionator accurately represents them regular merges can take place, often these merges are one way with a fresh scion sent from the citizen to merge with the scionator.
Egalitarian Hive-mind Using sophisticated DNI hardware and software some societies choose to merge themselves into a hive-mind. In this fashion citizens share their sensory experience, thoughts, feelings, memories and personalities with each other and through this process create a system of government. As well as sharing citizens must be able to mentally multitask so that they can both focus on themselves as well as constantly analyse the thoughts and feelings of the greater society. Through this process as in a sciocracy laws and policies are made through complex consensus. However the effect is much more protean in a hive-mind due to two distinct differences;
1) In a hive-mind consensus is given in real time and is ongoing so an individual citizen can track the progress of debate and act within the current consensus. In a sciocracy consensus is a much more regulated affair with the final decision being revealed at the end and no policy is made before this time.
2) Due to the limitations of the minds of citizen's consensus making progresses through a hive-mind occur in a manner akin to propagating waves. This has the effect of consensus seeming to rapidly change at times as new ideas are thought of or new citizens finally get the chance to comment. In a sciocracy the system is far more ordered with scionators duplicated and dedicated to each new proposal.
Monarchic Hive-mind Using similar methods to those described above a monarchic hive-mind operates by every citizen merging, instead of sharing, their sensory experience, thoughts, feelings, memories and personalities with one entity that becomes the product of all citizens. This entity is known
as the Queen (though may have different titles in different societies) and acts as law and policy maker for the society. The activities of a Queen are very difficult to comprehend for individual citizens as they are conducted as e alone has the capacity to review all sides of any debate and all evidence at once. Due to this monarchy hive-mind societies often have dedicated AI that can patiently explain upon request the rationale behind any of the Queen's decisions, though for the most part comprehensive explanations of seemingly quick decisions can take years to relay to a modosophont.
Interestingly there are a few accounts of Queens displaying transavant and transapient capabilities. It is still a matter of debate amongst Toposophic Sophontologists as to how exactly this could occur and what the relationships between transap Queens and their subjects are. There are even unconfirmed reports of groups of transaps adopting this approach to group management and creating a higher toposophy Queen on purpose though the truthfulness of this is highly questionable. Even so some monarchic hive minds (and their political neighbours) employ various checks and balances in an attempt to prevent or mitigate possible blights or perversions.
Cyberpanarchy In some societies pursuit of individual freedom to choose ones government (and therefore economic and legal system) leads to the development of a panarchy. In a panarchy any individual is free to create a system of government and law (often called polities, groups or networks), people can then choose to join this system and obey these rules (it is not uncommon for mental bindings to be installed in order to enforce acceptable network behaviour). In a cyberdemocracy panarchy is facilitated by allowing sophonts to register, advertise and organise polities through a net. A long standing problem of panarchy has been how to solve the problems of multiple government and legal systems operating within the same geographical area as there is potential for conflict. Sophonts are bound by the legal code they sign up to, if they break it then they are subject to the judicial system and penalties that they agreed to. Conflict occurs when a sophont from one polity performs an act that a second sophont classes as a crime against them but the first polity does no class as a crime, for example: Alice picks fruit from a tree that Bob claims as his. The constitution of Bob's polity asserts his right to claim natural property but the constitution of Alice's Geoist polity asserts her right to utilise natural resources.
Cyberpanarchy allows panarchys to efficiently solve conflict through rapid interpersonal and interpolity discourse allowing for on-demand conflict resolution. Common techniques include widespread utilisation of aibitrators and/or interpolitical organisations. Examples include an online NGO that polities can send representatives to discuss issues, such things can even be cyberdemocracies in their own right e.g. all polities send a virtual representative (AI, vircher, scion, hive-mind Queen etc) and these representatives debate and vote on matters of interpolity dispute.
Advantages and Disadvantages of cyberdemocracies Contrasted to political systems that do not utilise high-tech equipment cyberdemocracies are considerably faster at dealing with issues and can manage a far higher number of more complex issues at once. A conventional democracy in a middle-tech society may take months or even years to deal with specific issues but a cyberdemocracy could shrink that time from anywhere between a few minutes to a few weeks (assuming all the available data is present at the beginning of the political process). However in comparison with autocratic systems (especially those run by transaps) this is still slow; even monarchic hive minds cannot compete as the Queen is often distributed across the entire polity and thus may have a slower subjective experience.
A common advantage of a democracy is that amongst the majority of clades individual contribution to the political process results in higher scores in quality-of-life indexes. Exemptions from this include aicracies such as the Sephirotic Empires although these do use cyberdemocracies at local levels.
On average cyberdemocracies are vastly more efficient in terms of organisation over their non-cyber counterparts; bureaucracy, logistics and economics all work better due to the increase in the skill- and knowledgebase that including a larger croup brings but without the problems of communication and organisation of so many individuals thanks to the technologies underpinnings cyberdemocracies. In effect hyper-efficient group management and consensus decision making permeates society.
It is for this reason that cyberdemocracies are vulnerable to covert or overt cyberwarfare. If one polity introduces malware into another's government network (govnet) they could cause miscounts in polls, delete/edit contributions of certain citizens, moderate certain comments differently, doctor argument maps, supply false information to both individuals of a group mind and the mind itself, corrupt scionators etc all towards the goal of engineering the political situation in said govnet to benefit the attacking polity. Alternatively during an overt and aggressive war/conflict attacks via cyberspace can cripple a combatant by disrupting a govnet, this has a similar effect to dropping a bomb on a non-cyber democracy senate/congress/parliament during full session. During times of war cyberdemocracies have a tenancy to partition into closed councils and black chambers, select individuals are promoted to core government positions concentrating power in a less vulnerable configuration. There are various precedents in history where this phenomenon was the desired effect of the attacking polity so as to leave the defender as an autocratic state once aggression has ceased.
Related Concepts The polar opposite to a cyberdemocracy is a cybertyranny, where information technology and surveillance are used to oppress the population. Other related concepts include aiocracy, where sophont AIs are involved with government to a greater or lesser extent, in some cases taking over all political and bureaucratic functions. Direct rule by archailects is known as archailectocracy.
Text by Ryan B
Snapshot by Ryan B
Initially published on 26 April 2012.