I often like to think about how technology could change society in the future. I don’t mean smaller smartphones or bigger SSDs. I mean changing societies and cultures. Wikipedia has basically destroyed encyclopaedias as we knew them. Mobile internet has radically changed the way we socially interact.

VoteAustralia is about to have an election. On one hand you have Labor, who are modern, more liberal on the political spectrum, but also possibly untrustworthy given their infighting. On the other hand you have the Coalition, who are very traditional, potentially to the point of being backwards. A fair chunk of the community would be aghast if the Coalition get in, based on their stances on immigration, climate change, same-sex marriage and telecommunications. Conversely, a fair chunk of the community would be aghast if Labor get in, based on their stances on immigration, climate change, same-sex marriage and budgets.

Rational, scientific debate hasn’t really helped. I was thinking this morning: how could technology fix this?

Then I had my Old El Paso moment:
Why don't we do both?

It’s getting faster and easier to both compute and look up information, by leaps and bounds every year. Imagine if your ballot didn’t go into some preferential ballot system, but specified which virtual society you belonged to. Suppose in the future you have the option to vote for Kevin RAID0, or Tony Ab-Bot (for simplicity, it’s a two-party, no local government universe). Suppose you vote for Kevin. This puts you in his virtual electorate. Your taxes are calculated appropriately for this system, as is its distribution amongst things like infrastructure, businesses and the sciences.

If you’re in this virtual state, then you’re allowed to have same-sex marriage and have access to fast telecommunications infrastructure. If you’re in the alternative virtual state, you can be safe knowing that none of your taxes go to that sort of stuff, and instead go to stopping immigrants from using all your resources.

Implicit in this system is that votes no longer have to be private, and politicians have real incentives to propose systems that benefit (or, I guess, trick) people into joining them. Politicians with disastrous economic plans will find themselves in trouble with no industries to support them.

Overlaying virtual societies like this isn’t an impossibility with many of our systems. It makes it more complicated, for sure, but it’s not impossible to do. It gets interesting at the borders, not just of the country, but between these virtual societies. Who owns a road? Well, using our Old El Paso philosophy, the virtual societies contribute proportionally. If you can track usage of roads by the different societies (and just on this level, no need for personal privacy to be impinged upon) then you can sort out the maintenance costs appropriately. If a road is used entirely by those in the Ab-Bot virtual society, then they pay for it. This could be easily be implemented in much the same way they do electronic road tolls now.

If an Ab-Bot person wanted in on the juicy telecommunications network, then they can opt in, for a premium that benefits the RAID0 society, either by coercing them into your society, or by paying good money for your benefits. I’m not sure on how you negotiate natural resources. If someone grinds their half of the Great Barrier Reef into silicon slush, then the other side will surely be affected.

How these societies would co-exist socially would be weird. There might be some parallel consensus reality stuff going on, like in China Mieville’s “The City & the city.” I’m not sure how it’d integrate with socio-economic or demographic breakdowns. Breaking into too many virtual societies would be detrimental to the individual societies, so you are loosely encouraged to group together for the common good you all agree on. If it is totally free to switch virtual societies (at regular elections, so you don’t encourage fraud via society flip-flopping), then that’s gotta be good, right? We replace our right to vote with our right to choose our society. Voting now is a mere approximation of that idea.

It’d be even more interesting if our laws were computer-understandable, and they could work out the boundary conditions via proof systems. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Practically, I have no idea how this would pan out. But the future is weird. If you told my 12-year old self that he could think of something ridiculous over breakfast and then publish it potentially to the entire world in minutes, all from his own house, my 12-year old self’s head would explode. But here I am.


only 1 comment until now

  1. I’ve heard dumber ideas this week. When you look at the upcoming election and how disenfranchised voters are with all the major parties I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one willing to give your idea a shot.