There Are Better Ways to Do Democracy


Article by Peter Coy: “The Brexit disaster has stained the reputation of direct democracy. The United Kingdom’s trauma began in 2016, when then-Prime Minister David Cameron miscalculated that he could strengthen Britain’s attachment to the European Union by calling a referendum on it. The Leave campaign made unkeepable promises about Brexit’s benefits. Voters spent little time studying the facts because there was a vanishingly small chance that any given vote would make the difference by breaking a tie. Leave won—and Google searches for “What is the EU” spiked after the polls closed.

Brexit is only one manifestation of a global problem. Citizens want elected officials to be as responsive as Uber drivers, but they don’t always take their own responsibilities seriously. This problem isn’t new. America’s Founding Fathers worried that democracy would devolve into mob rule; the word “democracy” appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

While fears about democratic dysfunction are understandable, there are ways to make voters into real participants in the democratic process without giving in to mobocracy. Instead of referendums, which often become lightning rods for extremism, political scientists say it’s better to make voters think like jurors, whose decisions affect the lives and fortunes of others.

Guided deliberation, also known as deliberative democracy, is one way to achieve that. Ireland used it in 2016 and 2017 to help decide whether to repeal a constitutional amendment that banned abortion in most cases. A 99-person Citizens’ Assembly was selected to mirror the Irish population. It met over five weekends to evaluate input from lawyers and obstetricians, pro-life and pro-choice groups, and more than 13,000 written submissions from the public, guided by a chairperson from the Irish supreme court. Together they concluded that the legislature should have the power to allow abortion under a broader set of conditions, a recommendation that voters approved in a 2018 referendum; abortion in Ireland became legal in January 2019.

Done right, deliberative democracy brings out the best in citizens. “My experience shows that some of the most polarising issues can be tackled in this manner,” Louise Caldwell, an Irish assembly member, wrote in a column for the Guardian in January. India’s village assemblies, which involve all the adults in local decision-making, are a form of deliberative democracy on a grand scale. A March article in the journal Science says that “evidence from places such as Colombia, Belgium, Northern Ireland, and Bosnia shows that properly structured deliberation can promote recognition, understanding, and learning.” Even French President Emmanuel Macron has used it, convening a three-month “great debate” to solicit the public’s views on some of the issues raised by the sometimes-violent Yellow Vest movement. On April 8, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented one key finding: The French have “zero tolerance” for new taxes…(More)”.

e-Democracy: Toward a New Model of (Inter)active Society


Book by Alfredo M. Ronchi: “This book explores the main elements of e-Democracy, the term normally used to describe the implementation of democratic government processes by electronic means. It provides insights into the main technological and human issues regarding governance, government, participation, inclusion, empowerment, procurement and, last but not least, ethical and privacy issues. Its main aim is to bridge the gap between technological solutions, their successful implementation, and the fruitful utilization of the main set of e-Services totally or partially delivered by governments or non-government organizations.


Today, various parameters actively influence e-Services’ success or failure: cultural aspects, organisational issues, bureaucracy and workflows, infrastructure and technology in general, user habits, literacy, capacity or merely interaction design. This includes having a significant population of citizens who are willing and able to adopt and use online services; as well as developing the managerial and technical capability to implement applications that meet citizens’ needs. This book helps readers understand the mutual dependencies involved; further, a selection of success stories and failures, duly commented on, enables readers to identify the right approach to innovation in governmental e-Services….(More)”

Digital Data for Development


LinkedIn: “The World Bank Group and LinkedIn share a commitment to helping workers around the world access opportunities that make good use of their talents and skills. The two organizations have come together to identify new ways that data from LinkedIn can help inform policymakers who seek to boost employment and grow their economies.

This site offers data and automated visuals of industries where LinkedIn data is comprehensive enough to provide an emerging picture. The data complements a wealth of official sources and can offer a more real-time view in some areas particularly for new, rapidly changing digital and technology industries.

The data shared in the first phase of this collaboration focuses on 100+ countries with at least 100,000 LinkedIn members each, distributed across 148 industries and 50,000 skills categories. In the near term, it will help World Bank Group teams and government partners pinpoint ways that developing countries could stimulate growth and expand opportunity, especially as disruptive technologies reshape the economic landscape. As LinkedIn’s membership and digital platforms continue to grow in developing countries, this collaboration will assess the possibility to expand the sectors and countries covered in the next annual update.

This site offers downloadable data, visualizations, and an expanding body of insights and joint research from the World Bank Group and LinkedIn. The data is being made accessible as a public good, though it will be most useful for policy analysts, economists, and researchers….(More)”.

Responsible data sharing in international health research: a systematic review of principles and norms


Paper by Shona Kalkman, Menno Mostert, Christoph Gerlinger, Johannes J. M. van Delden and Ghislaine J. M. W. van Thiel: ” Large-scale linkage of international clinical datasets could lead to unique insights into disease aetiology and facilitate treatment evaluation and drug development. Hereto, multi-stakeholder consortia are currently designing several disease-specific translational research platforms to enable international health data sharing. Despite the recent adoption of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the procedures for how to govern responsible data sharing in such projects are not at all spelled out yet. In search of a first, basic outline of an ethical governance framework, we set out to explore relevant ethical principles and norms…

We observed an abundance of principles and norms with considerable convergence at the aggregate level of four overarching themes: societal benefits and value; distribution of risks, benefits and burdens; respect for individuals and groups; and public trust and engagement. However, at the level of principles and norms we identified substantial variation in the phrasing and level of detail, the number and content of norms considered necessary to protect a principle, and the contextual approaches in which principles and norms are used....

While providing some helpful leads for further work on a coherent governance framework for data sharing, the current collection of principles and norms prompts important questions about how to streamline terminology regarding de-identification and how to harmonise the identified principles and norms into a coherent governance framework that promotes data sharing while securing public trust….(More)”

Does increased ‘participation’ equal a new-found enthusiasm for democracy?


Blog by Stephen King and Paige Nicol: “With a few months under our belts, 2019 looks unlikely to be the year of a great global turnaround for democracy. The decade of democratic ‘recession’ that Larry Diamond declared in 2015 has dragged on and deepened, and may now be teetering on the edge of becoming a full-blown depression. 

The start of each calendar year is marked by the release of annual indices, rankings, and reports on how democracy is faring around the world. 2018 reports from Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) highlighted precipitous declines in civil liberties in long-standing democracies as well as authoritarian states. Some groups, including migrants, women, ethnic and other minorities, opposition politicians, and journalists have been particularly affected by these setbacks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists murdered nearly doubled last year, while the number imprisoned remained above 250 for the third consecutive year. 

Yet, the EIU also found a considerable increase in political participation worldwide. Levels of participation (including voting, protesting, and running for elected office, among other dimensions) increased substantially enough last year to offset falling scores in the other four categories of the index. Based on the methodology used, the rise in political participation was significant enough to prevent a decline in the global overall score for democracy for the first time in three years.

Though this development could give cause for optimism we believe it could also raise new concerns. 

In Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Venezuela we see people who, through desperation and frustration, have taken to the streets – a form of participation which has been met with brutal crackdowns. Time has yet to tell what the ultimate outcome of these protests will be, but it is clear that governments with autocratic tendencies have more – and cheaper – tools to monitor, direct, control, and suppress participation than ever before. 

Elsewhere, we see a danger of people becoming dislocated and disenchanted with democracy, as their representatives fail to take meaningful action on the issues that matter to them. In the UK Parliament, as Brexit discussions have become increasingly polarised and fractured along party political and ideological lines, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that there was a threat of social unrest if Parliament was seen to be frustrating the ‘will of the people.’ 

While we see enhanced participation as crucial to just and fair societies, it alone will not be the silver bullet that saves democracy. Whether this trend becomes a cause for hope or concern will depend on three factors: who is participating, what form does participation take, and how is participation received by those with power?…(More)”.

Progression of the Inevitable


Kevin Kelly at Technium: “…The procession of technological discoveries is inevitable. When the conditions are right — when the necessary web of supporting technology needed for every invention is established — then the next adjacent technological step will emerge as if on cue. If inventor X does not produce it, inventor Y will. The invention of the microphone, the laser, the transistor, the steam turbine, the waterwheel, and the discoveries of oxygen, DNA, and Boolean logic, were all inevitable in roughly the period they appeared. However the particular form of the microphone, its exact circuit, or the specific design of the laser, or the particular materials of the transistor, or the dimensions of the steam turbine, or the peculiar notation of the formula, or the specifics of any invention are not inevitable. Rather they will vary quite widely due to the personality of their finder, the resources at hand, the culture of society they are born into, the economics funding the discovery, and the influence of luck and chance. An incandescent light bulb based on a coil of carbonized bamboo filament heated within a vacuum bulb is not inevitable, but “the electric incandescent light bulb” is. The concept of “the electric incandescent light bulb” abstracted from all the details that can vary while still producing the result — luminance from electricity, for instance  —  is ordained by the technium’s trajectory. We know this because “the electric incandescent light bulb” was invented, re-invented, co-invented, or “first invented” dozens of times. In their book “Edison’s Electric Light: Biography of an Invention”, Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 23 inventors of incandescent bulbs prior to Edison. It might be fairer to say that Edison was the very last “first” inventor of the electric light.

Lightbulbs



Three independently invented electric light bulbs: Edison’s, Swan’s, and Maxim’s.

Any claim of inevitability is difficult to prove. Convincing proof requires re-running a progression more than once and showing that the outcome is the same each time. That no matter what perturbations thrown at the system, it yields an identical result. To claim that the large-scale trajectory of the technium is inevitable would mean demonstrating that if we re-ran history, the same abstracted inventions would arise again, and in roughly the same relative order.  Without a time machine, there’ll be no indisputable proof, but we do have three types of evidence that suggest that the paths of technologies are inevitable. They are 1) that quantifiable trajectories of progress don’t waver despite attempts to shift them (see my Moore’s Law); 2) that in ancient times when transcontinental communication was slow or null, we find independent timelines of technology in different continents converging upon a set order; and 3) the fact that most inventions and discoveries have been made independently by more than one person….(More)”.

Play and playfulness for public health and wellbeing


Book edited by Alison Tonkin and Julia Whitaker: “The role of play in human and animal development is well established, and its educational and therapeutic value is widely supported in the literature. This innovative book extends the play debate by assembling and examining the many pieces of the play puzzle from the perspective of public health. It tackles the dual aspects of art and science which inform both play theory and public health policy, and advocates for a ‘playful’ pursuit of public health, through the integration of evidence from parallel scientific and creative endeavors.

Drawing on international research evidence, the book addresses some of the major public health concerns of the 21st century – obesity, inactivity, loneliness and mental health – advocating for creative solutions to social disparities in health and wellbeing. From attachment at the start of life to detachment at life’s ending, in the home and in the workplace, and across virtual and physical environments, play is presented as vital to the creation of a new ‘culture of health’.

This book represents a valuable resource for students, academics, practitioners and policy-makers across a range of fields of interest including play, health, the creative arts and digital and environmental design….(More)”.

OECD survey reveals many people unhappy with public services and benefits


Report by OECD: “Many people in OECD countries believe public services and social benefits are inadequate and hard to reach. More than half say they do not receive their fair share of benefits given the taxes they pay, and two-thirds believe others get more than they deserve. Nearly three out of four people say they want their government to do more to protect their social and economic security.  

These are among the findings of a new OECD survey, “Risks that Matter”, which asked over 22,000 people aged 18 to 70 years old in 21 countries about their worries and concerns and how well they think their government helps them tackle social and economic risks.

This nationally representative survey finds that falling ill and not being able to make ends meet are often at the top of people’s lists of immediate concerns. Making ends meet is a particularly common worry for those on low incomes and in countries that were hit hard by the financial crisis. Older people are most often worried about their health, while younger people are frequently concerned with securing adequate housing. When asked about the longer-term, across all countries, getting by in old age is the most commonly cited worry.

The survey reveals a dissatisfaction with current social policy. Only a minority are satisfied with access to services like health care, housing, and long-term care. Many believe the government would not be able to provide a proper safety net if they lost their income due to job loss, illness or old age. More than half think they would not be able to easily access public benefits if they needed them.

“This is a wake-up call for policy makers,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “OECD countries have some of the most advanced and generous social protection systems in the world. They spend, on average, more than one-fifth of their GDP on social policies. Yet, too many people feel they cannot count fully on their government when they need help. A better understanding of the factors driving this perception and why people feel they are struggling is essential to making social protection more effective and efficient. We must restore trust and confidence in government, and promote equality of opportunity.”

In every country surveyed except Canada, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, most people say that their government does not incorporate the views of people like them when designing social policy. In a number of countries, including Greece, Israel, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovenia, this share rises to more than two-thirds of respondents. This sense of not being part of the policy debate increases at higher levels of education and income, while feelings of injustice are stronger among those from high-income households.

Public perceptions of fairness are worrying. More than half of respondents say they do not receive their fair share of benefits given the taxes they pay, a share that rises to three quarters or more in Chile, Greece, Israel and Mexico. At the same time, people are calling for more help from government. In almost all countries, more than half of respondents say they want the government to do more for their economic and social security. This is especially the case for older respondents and those on low incomes.

Across countries, people are worried about financial security in old age, and most are willing to pay more to support public pension systems… (More)”.

Nearly Half of Canadian Consumers Willing to Share Significant Personal Data with Banks and Insurers in Exchange for Lower Pricing, Accenture Study Finds


Press Release: “Nearly half of Canadian consumers would be willing to share significant personal information, such as location data and lifestyle information, with their bank and insurer in exchange for lower pricing on products and services, according to a new report from Accenture (NYSE: ACN).

Consumers willing to share personal data in select scenarios. (CNW Group/Accenture)
Consumers willing to share personal data in select scenarios. (CNW Group/Accenture)

Accenture’s global Financial Services Consumer Study, based on a survey of 47,000 consumers in 28 countries which included 2,000 Canadians, found that more than half of consumers would share that data for benefits including more-rapid loan approvals, discounts on gym memberships and personalized offers based on current location.

At the same time, however, Canadian consumers believe that privacy is paramount, with nearly three quarters (72 per cent) saying they are very cautious about the privacy of their personal data. In fact, data security breaches were the second-biggest concern for consumers, behind only increasing costs, when asked what would make them leave their bank or insurer.

“Canadian consumers are willing to sharing their personal data in instances where it makes their lives easier but remain cautious of exactly how their information is being used,” said Robert Vokes, managing director of financial services at Accenture in Canada. “With this in mind, banks and insurers need to deliver hyper-relevant and highly convenient experience in order to remain relevant, retain trust and win customer loyalty in a digital economy.”

Consumers globally showed strong support for personalized insurance premiums, with 64 per cent interested in receiving adjusted car insurance premiums based on safe driving and 52 per cent in exchange for life insurance premiums tied to a healthy lifestyle. Four in five consumers (79 per cent) would provide personal data, including income, location and lifestyle habits, to their insurer if they believe it would help reduce the possibility of injury or loss.

In banking, 81 per cent of consumers would be willing to share income, location and lifestyle habit data for rapid loan approval, and 76 per cent would do so to receive personalized offers based on their location, such as discounts from a retailer. Approximately two-fifths (42 per cent) of Canadian consumers specifically, want their bank to provide updates on how much money they have based on spending that month and 46 per cent want savings tips based on their spending habits.  

Appetite for data sharing differs around the world

Appetite for sharing significant personal data with financial firms was highest in China, with 67 per cent of consumers there willing to share more data for personalized services. Half (50 per cent) of consumers in the U.S. said they were willing to share more data for personalized services, and in Europe — where the General Data Protection Regulation took effect in May — consumers were more skeptical. For instance, only 40 per cent of consumers in both the U.K. and Germany said they would be willing to share more data with banks and insurers in return for personalized services…(More)”,

How AI Can Cure the Big Idea Famine


Saahil Jayraj Dama at JoDS: “Today too many people are still deprived of basic amenities such as medicine, while current patent laws continue to convolute and impede innovation. But if allowed, AI can provide an opportunity to redefine this paradigm and be the catalyst for change—if….

Which brings us to the most befitting answer: No one owns the intellectual property rights to AI-generated creations, and these creations fall into the public domain. This may seem unpalatable at first, especially since intellectual property laws have played such a fundamental role in our society so far. We have been conditioned to a point where it seems almost unimaginable that some creations should directly enter the public domain upon their birth.

But, doctrinally, this is the only proposition that stays consistent to extant intellectual property laws. Works created by AI have no rightful owner because the application of mind to generate the creation, along with the actual generation of the creation, would entirely be done by the AI system. Human involvement is ancillary and is limited to creating an environment within which such a creation can take form.

This can be better understood through a hypothetical example: If an AI system were to invent a groundbreaking pharmaceutical ingredient which completely treats balding, then the system would likely begin by understanding the problem and state of prior art. It would undertake research on causes of balding, existing cures, problems with existing cures, and whether its proposed cure would have any harmful side effects. It would also possibly combine research and knowledge across various domains, which could range from Ayurveda to modern-day biochemistry, before developing its invention.

The developer can lay as much stake to this invention as the team behind AlphaGo for beating Lee Sedol at Go. The user is even further detached from the exercise of ingenuity: She would be the person who first thought, “We should build a Go playing AI system,” and direct the AI system to learn Go by watching certain videos and playing against itself. Despite the intervention of all these entities, the fact remains that the victory only belongs to AlphaGo itself.

Doctrinal issues aside, this solution ties in with what people need from intellectual property laws: more openness and accessibility. The demands for improved access to medicines and knowledge, fights against cultural monopolies, and brazen violations of unjust intellectual property laws are all symptomatic of the growing public discontent against strong intellectual property laws. Through AI, we can design legal systems which address these concerns and reform the heavy handed approach that has been adopted toward intellectual property rights so far.

Tying the Threads Together

For the above to materialize, governments and legislators need to accept that our present intellectual property system is broken and inconsistent with what people want. Too many people are being deprived of basic amenities such as medicines, patent trolls and patent thickets are slowing innovation, educational material is still outside the reach of most people, and culture is not spreading as widely as it should. AI can provide an opportunity for us to redefine this paradigm—it can lead to a society that draws and benefits from an enriched public domain.

However, this approach does come with built-in cynicism because it contemplates an almost complete overhaul of the system. One could argue that if open access for AI-generated creations does become the norm, then innovation and creativity would suffer as people would no longer have the incentive to create. People may even refuse to use their AI systems, and instead stick to producing inventions and creative works by themselves. This would be detrimental to scientific and cultural progress and would also slow adoption of AI systems in society.

Yet, judging by the pace at which these systems have progressed so far and what they can currently do, it is easy to imagine a reality where humans developing inventions and producing creative works almost becomes an afterthought. If a machine can access all the world’s publicly available knowledge and information to develop an invention, or study a user’s likes and dislikes while producing a new musical composition, it is easy to see how humans would, eventually, be pushed out of the loop. AI-generated creations are, thus, inevitable.

The incentive theory will have to be reimagined, too. Constant innovation coupled with market forces will change the system from “incentive-to-create” to “incentive-to-create-well.” While every book, movie, song, and invention is treated at par under the law, only the best inventions and creative works will thrive under the new model. If a particular developer’s AI system can write incredible dialogue for a comedy film or invent the most efficient car engines, the market would want more of these AI systems. Thus incentive will not be eliminated, it will just take a different form.

It is true that writing about such grand schemes is significantly tougher than practically implementing them. But, for any idea to succeed, it must start with a discussion such as this one. Admittedly, we are still a moonshot away from any country granting formal recognition to open access as the basis of its intellectual property laws. And even if a country were to do this, it faces a plethora of hoops to jump through, such as conducting feasibility-testing and dealing with international and internal pressure. Despite these issues, facilitating better access through AI systems remains an objective worth achieving for any society that takes pride in being democratic and equal….(More)”.