One Person, One Vote: An Internet Democracy

A hierarchy is an organization where people at the top have more sway than people at the bottom. For many communities, this works pretty well. Take for example, academia. Would you prefer to be operated on by a neurosurgeon who graduated at the top of their class, or one who graduated at the bottom? Intuitively, people who are good at what they do should have more influence over their respective fields than people who don’t know anything about said field.

 

In communities defined by clear objectivity, hierarchies are preferred. But sometimes, even objective tasks are better suited for crowdsourced opinion. In The Wisdom of the Crowds, James Surowiecki describes the case of the jelly bean jar at the carnival. When collecting guesses as to how many beans are in the jar, often one person will turn out to be a half dozen beans off. However, the average of the entire crowd’s guesses will almost always be more accurate than one person’s best guess.

 

Look no further than cryptocurrency for an even more pertinent example. Bitcoin was going great until a group of experts began to disagree. An “experiment” in digital currency, with clearly defined goals and promises for its members, chose instead to redirect its path in a manner more aligned with those in control of its system (and probably paid off by pre-existing wealth). A new cryptocurrency that doubles as a democracy could avoid this pitfall.

 

When we build an internet democracy, and not just a currency, it’s important that we consider how laws and rules will be implemented. If we can quickly and accurately tabulate people’s opinions, we can more effectively develop a society that benefits the majority. On a broader scale, we can use these “verifiable accounts” to do things like objectively rate and evaluate cultural content and products. We can reward and propel artists, musicians, and content creators who are most deserving of attention from others. Is the music you hear on the radio also the most liked music by people in your life? Do you trust the poorly written 5 star reviews on Amazon, even if they come from a “verified purchase”? What about the Reddit comments in /r/The_Donald?

 

The internet was designed with a missing component; proof-of-person. In a purely virtual environment, it’s extremely easy to create a false sense of consensus. Democracy on the internet is impossible without a way to show that one person has only one account within a community. More importantly, A.I. has reached language capabilities indistinguishable from that of a human being, meaning a mercenary algorithm can be used to confabulate false opinions on legal, social, cultural, and political issues, unfairly swaying opinion on subjective content. These “fake review bots” can be used to propel artistic content, consumer products, and even presidential candidates that are undeserving of such positive sentiment. If you don’t believe that this is possible or desirable, then in the years 2013-2014, why were accounts on bitcointalk.org with many posts selling for hundreds of dollars in bitcoin?

 

Democracy as we know it hasn’t changed very much since it took a week for a pony-rider to mail a letter up the coast. Needless to say, a verifiable democracy, intertwined with the communication speed of the internet, would be revolutionary.

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