Is civic technology the killer app for democracy?

 at TechCrunch: “Smartphone apps have improved convenience for public transportation in many urban centers. In Washington, DC, riders can download apps to help them figure out where to go, when to show up and how long to wait for a bus or train. However, the problem with public transport in DC is not the lack of modern, helpful and timely information. The problem is that the Metro subway system is onfire. 

Critical infrastructure refers to the vital systems that connect us. Like the water catastrophe in Flint, Michigan and our crumbling roads, bridges and airports, the Metro system in DC is experiencing a systems failure. The Metro’s problems arise from typical public challenges like  poor management and deferred maintenance.

Upgrades of physical infrastructure are not easy and nimble like a software patch or an agile design process. They are slow, expensive and subject to deliberation and scrutiny. In other words, they are the fundamental substance of democratic decision-making: big decisions with long-term implications that require thoughtful strategy, significant investment, political leadership and public buy-in.

A killer app is an application you love so much you buy into a whole new way of doing things. Email and social media are good examples of killer apps. The killer app for Metro would have to get political leaders to look beyond their narrow, short-term interests and be willing to invest in modern public transportation for our national capital region.

The same is true for fixing our critical infrastructure throughout the nation. The killer apps for the systems on which we rely daily won’t be technical, they will be human. It will be Americans working together to a build a technology-enabled resilient democracy —one that is inclusive, responsive and successful in the Information Age.

In 2007, the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi river. During his presidential bid, Senator John McCain used this event as an example of the failure of our leaders to make trade-offs for common national purpose. Case in point, an extravagantly expensive congressionally funded Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” that served just a handful of people on an island. But how many apps to nowhere are we building?.

In DC, commuters who can afford alternatives will leave Metro. They’ll walk, drive, ordera car service or locate a bikeshare. The people who suffer from the public service risk and imbalance of the current Metro system are those who have no choice.

So here’s the challenge: Modern technology needs to create an inclusive society. Our current technical approach too often means that we’re prioritizing progress or profit for the few over the many. This pattern defeats the purpose of both the technology revolution and American democracy. Government and infrastructure are supposed to serve everyone, but technology thus far has made it so that public failures affect some Americans more than others. …

For democracy to succeed in the Information Age, we’ll need some new rules of engagement with technology. The White House recently released its third report on data and its implications for society. The 2016 report pays special attention to the ethics of machine automation and algorithms. The authors stress the importance of ethical analytics and propose the principle of “equal opportunity by design.” It’s an excellent point of departure as we recalibrate old systems and build new bridges to a more resilient, inclusive and prosperous nation….(more)”