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Harnessing the Swarm: Democracy in the 21st century

Harnessing the Swarm: Democracy in the 21st century

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Nov 2, 2016 4:39 AM
Last updated
Sep 25, 2022 5:42 AM

It’s 2026 and I’m sitting in a self-driving, all-electric community-owned Tesla, getting ready to submit my proposed changes to People’s Prop 240-A, reminiscing on how we got here.

“ We learned to harness the swarm for the benefit of every industry. ”

I remember middle school Language Arts, discovering Google! and saving essays on floppy disks. I remember when iRobot made artificial intelligence seem like an impossible challenge in the far future. I remember first learning about the different levels of AI, hearing of Google’s Deepmind acquisition, seeing a surge in economic interest when mobile computing gained enough brawn to host ANI beings and we gained enough ego to give them human names. Have ten years passed already?

Back then, a special type of intelligence caught my eye: at the time, swarm intelligence was a relatively new term describing the natural organic perfection that results from many imperfections. Realizing how powerful it could be, we wrote aggregation software to harness it and invited thousands of people to answer questions. The result was the ideal love-child of two then-modern tools: Big Data and open-source.

“ I dreamed of crowd-sourced problem-solving for every city, every industry, every brand, every person. ”

Seeing the forest through the trees

Starling populations, like many other species of birds, insects, and fish, seem to think and act as one unit, and manage to execute decisions within half a second despite their vast numbers. While the nature of human decisions is understandably more complex, biomimicry has taught us that there’s always genius to be found in nature. So, during an unexpected Trump presidency, the private sector learned from the birds and the bees, spread its wings, and applied its collective strengths to the very challenges that were holding it back.

Even before the technological pace of the 2000s, swarm intelligence was eerily accurate in practice. Back in the early 1900s, Sir Francis Galton asked people to estimate an ox’s weight. The 787 wild responses averaged into an overall guess just 9 pounds off—quite the achievement for a group of people who knew nothing of the subject at hand.

Back to the future

During the ’10s, this principle scaled well with the help of Big Data. As pioneers like Facebook and Google showed us, anyone with the ability to gather vast amounts of data could clamber quickly to the top of the heap. This fight to monetize data skewed our perspective for a time, but eventually, rather than trying to keep people on Facebook for ten more minutes, we started matching talented product engineers and their software with swarms of user inputs in order to solve real-world problems—and it worked like a charm.

“ Even before the technological pace of the 2000s, swarm intelligence was eerily accurate in practice. ”

Of course, many of the issues we faced in the late 2010s were not as linear as weighing an ox, so companies like UNU and Conscious Creative started designing for massive simultaneous user input and pushing the limits of interconnectivity beyond our previously limited understanding. UNU made spot-on predictions a reality using swarms of user input, and we developed tools that tapped into collective consciousness to help communities come to agreements faster than ever before.


We also made it possible for consumers to give product design feedback—collectively. The best UX design comes from user feedback, and even though some forums already existed for popular products, we needed to find a way to let people submit feedback for anything—especially within cities. Therein lay another power of swarm intelligence.

Economic reach (and a bit of idealism)

We learned to harness the swarm for the benefit of every industry. As the number of people with internet access exploded, so did the interest and involvement, and so did the tech landscape. I dreamed of a social app that would enable users to send direct cities, elected officials, and companies of all kinds—without necessarily knowing which person or department the feedback should reach. I dreamed that it automatically shared that feedback in a public space to encourage other voices to join in. I dreamed of a clean political platform that would incentivize community members to participate in the municipal operations of their local government organizations, such as brainstorming alternative solutions to widening freeways in hopes of reducing rush hour traffic. I dreamed of crowd-sourced problem-solving for every city, every industry, every brand, every person.

Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect. As this entire principle proved, human beings are humbly imperfect, and it’s a beautiful thing. But we learned to apply our differences to shared interests. We learned to make group decisions fairly and efficiently, and we began shaping the world to our collective liking. Essentially, we had learned that while we were individually incapable of making accurate predictionstogether we were much smarter and could paint beautiful visions of the future.

“ I dreamed of fixing the broken, and improving the rest.”

In 1947, Churchill famously quoted that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Now, it’s 2026 and I’m getting ready to submit my suggestions for People’s Prop 240-A, and Digital Direct Democracy is the best form of government that has never existed. I’m so proud that we’ve been able to build better cities with our crowd-sourced feedback platform, and that we’ve brought real democracy into the 21st century.

This is a futuristic fiction piece aimed at inspiring a generation of change. If you’re interested in collaborating on solutions to government, politics, etc. please get in touch.