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Posted: May 25, 2012

The futurist: More on the coming e-democracy

There's potential for something far better than what we've got

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part 1.)

Consider the following two scenarios:

Many companies are currently working on online voting systems that are certifiably safe, secure and tamper-proof. Some already claim they have achieved this goal.

Scenario 1: In 2018, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decides on using a different process for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize. After receiving roughly 250 nominations for the award, the committee narrows down the field to just eight names.

Working with a new certifiable form of election software, the Committee embarks on holding the world’s first global election to select the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Allowing for a 60-day period for “campaigning” to occur, all votes are cast within a two-day period, with the winner announced the day after all of the votes are in.

During this time, a total of 750 million votes are cast with people from 84 different countries participating.

As a result of this process, the winner instantly becomes the most recognizable face on the planet…. more famous than Presidents, Kings, or any other global leader.

Also, as a consequence of this process, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is dramatically elevated in stature and influence, and the Peace Prize becomes the most coveted award on earth. The pursuit of peace becomes a global obsession.

Scenario 2: Not satisfied with the corrupting nature of present-day politics in countries around the world, a rogue group sets out to establish a new set of global standards for human rights.

The group starts out small but begins to build momentum with a series of well-targeted press articles. Over time, after holding a series of global elections to both define and refine ethical standards on basic human rights issues, the group begins to tackle more controversial topics such as abortion, infanticide, gay rights, military conduct, euthanasia, human cloning, and other end of life issues.

With each scheduled vote on controversial issues, the number of followers grows until there are several hundred million people weighing in on each issue.

Over time, the popularity of the organization, coupled with the overwhelming influence of their pronouncements, forces every level of government, in countries around the world, to rethink their existing laws and the systems they are using to enforce them.

Even though locally elected officials adamantly proclaim they are not about to be influenced by this group, thanks to the vast amount of news coverage they receive and the persuasive nature of their results, it becomes an issue that cannot be brushed aside.

Finding the Downside – Gaming the System

With the voting systems currently in place, the person who gets elected is the one who does the best job of appealing to the median intelligence of the voting public. This is probably a good thing, but tends to reduce political campaigns to simplified messaging framed around television sound bites.

With some of the very complicated issues we will be facing in the future, we will need a better system for drawing out better solutions.

Virtually every voting system can be manipulated, and I’m sure the one I described will be no exception.

The difficulty level of the questions could be manipulated to screen out backers on one side of an issue. Large organizations or companies could coach their people on how to answer the questions to vote. Answers to test questions could be sent to people in advance.

Even with these potential pitfalls, there is a potential for something far better than what we have today.

Final Thoughts

If we consider the world 100 years in the future, what will be the most powerful entity on the planet? Will it still be a powerful nation like the U.S. or will some other organization emerge?

Perhaps it will be a religious organization, a large industrial association, a grouping of countries like the EU, or some other global governing body like ICAAN or the United Nations.

While questions like this are difficult to answer, one prediction that is easy to make is that the antiquated voting systems being used today will not last much longer. And new voting systems will create new options that few of us have previously considered.

In the future we may indeed have the right to vote on such issues as the:

  • Location of the Olympics
  • Location of the World Cup
  • Time Magazine “Person of the Year”

But will we be able to vote on the issues that really matter? Over the coming years we may be asked to weigh-in on a variety of major global topics.

  • Should plastic bags and bottles be banned worldwide?
  • Should research be banned on creating new forms of life, human cloning, or genetically modified organisms?
  • Should there be a global standard for human rights, issues of right and wrong, or other life-related matters.
  • Who owns the Moon or Mars?
  • Who has the right to mine asteroids or mineral deposits found deep within the center of the earth?

Yes, these types of elections pose a substantial threat to our current balance of power. While some people will dismiss them as unrealistic, others will view them as an undermining force. They may be both.

People who will decide are the ones who architect the systems, and there will be no voting on that issue.

 

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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