Software and Our Polity

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If open source computing seems like too esoteric a topic to approach, consider this; democracy is a form of open sourcing. What's more, we increasingly see that people, whether they be in countries with democratic governments or not, are using the collective power of online organization. [1] Still, technology is a morally and ethically neutral and there's room for argument about its nature and emerging role in politics.

Contents

Techno-Guarded-Optistic Pessimism

Empowering or Censoring?

A Critique on Techno-Optimism

Changing How Representative Governments Represent

It's too soon to tell, but the 2012 election could have marked a fundamental sea-change in the way the political system (in the U.S. specificaly, but certainly other places as well) plays the game of politics; and unsurprisingly, it's computers that are at the forefront of that. The 2012 U.S. Presidential election saw both parties, as they neared the end, becoming increasingly certain that they would win. One side was very wrong; and it isn't that they were wrong but why they were wrong; or perhaps, why their opponents were right, that has marked a fundamental change.

["http://readwrite.com/2012/11/07/why-nate-silver-won-and-why-it-matters#awesm=~oayQuJGifCI9ag" Nate Silver]

It's easy to think that this issue is only going to rear its head every four years, but consider that Republican strategist Karl Rove, speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival made the following quote

In the Republican case, they take up to 450 pieces of household-level of information about you in order to develop three numbers: how likely are  
you to vote, how persuadable are you, and then a complex algorithm for every voter and non-voter—everyone registered and everybody 
unregistered—that describes your view of the world, what’s important to you and how do you think about things, what will motivate you.  
[2]

With this level of data, each political party can craft platforms and target voters on an individual basis. It's personalized political service. Issues about privacy aside, maybe this is good for our polity? Maybe?

The Devil is in the Interpretation

Politicians have always sought individual votes, but what's changed since the glad-handing days of yore (if those days CAN be said to truly be of yore) is that computer technology has made the collection and processing of data (for beneficial or nefarious purposes) simpler by orders of magnitude.

Still, the data are just numbers and they're useless without interpretation. (Incidentally, Nate Silver would agree with this, in fact, he wrote a whole book about how some interpretations are justifies and some aren't but not all interpretations are equal. [3]).

The following episode of WNYC's Radiolab series does a great job highlighting the dangers inherent in misinterpreting statistics in everyday life.

Programmer's Note: The episode is an hour long, and I recommend you listen to the whole thing, but the pertinent information for our purposes is in the first half of the episode.

Stochasticity

Digital Activism

In the United State we're fond of saying that our government is "of the people, by the people and for the people". As to the first, "of the people" we elect from our own (ideally, though consider how many representatives are millionaires vs the percentage of millionaires amongst the electorate [4], or lawyers, for that matter [5]) representatives to govern on our behalf (again ideally, its been argued that the unbalancing influence of money is a HUGE problem [6]). As to the third part, "for the people", the electorate is comfortable with the notion that they can demand things of their government. But, as to the second part, "by the people", it seems the jury is still largely out on that one.

What does the average citizen have to do with government? Even the small percentage of the voting populace only votes once every four years (or two, at the most). All this leads to a question, is the government actually BY the people? How might it be?

Our Embicilic Constitution

Open Source Politics

Aaron Swartz - "How we stopped SOPA"

Penn and Teller Burn a Flag

Future... Perfect?

References

  1. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1905125,00.html
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH-CpicgulQ
  3. http://dft.ba/-6ofG
  4. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/11/47-of-congress-members-millionaires-a-status-shared-by-only-1-of-americans/
  5. http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/01/17/an-awesome-diagram-of-the-113th-congress/
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw2z9lV3W1g

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