Expert Systems of Governance

  • Posted on: 27 June 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe
Three forms of governance: absolute chaos, perpetual tuning, and smart systems. In the Dark Knight, the Joker said that he liked chaos because ultimately chaos was fair. And chaos is both brutal and fair. Fragile nation states and former nations, like Somalia, are showing that even though they are anarchies, they still function to an extent. They're not denuded to people nor are they savage climes. Don't get me wrong: I would not want to live in Somalia or a similar failed state. The side effect of anarchy is that apex predators, warlords and the like rule the day. I'm not an apex predator, unfortunately.

We live in the alternative to anarchy: a model that is full of checks and balances, incentives and programs. To say the least, it can be complex and the system can be gamed. In fact, that seems to be the reason for the current system of governance. It exists to be gamed. So many of these little loopholes exist in our systems that we either get hung up by them or we can dance between them like dancing between the raindrops. I was at a talk where the speaker was talking about touring the world to sell important businesses in his community. I thought this community has something like 10,000 important business. They're either important everybody (like Google) or they're important to the people running them. It would be impossible for this person to run off the list of 10,000 businesses who could improve their fortunes were they somehow also prosper and do things better because of him talking up their businesses elsewhere. So what would happen instead is one of two messages comes out of his discussions. Either he would have to be overly vague and say things like "we have nice weather and lots of trees" and "people are happy" and "people like babies and babies are cute." Or, he would have to get overly specific and highlight key players or places that got his attention. That sort of hyper-management or management by anecdote feels very dangerous and wobbly. The best you can hope for, is that he plays favorites, which you could hope for; that it does nothing; or it just leaves a bad taste in people's mouths.

The third model of governance one that I would really like to see happen but it just doesn't seem to be common. One where systems are in place to assess what's available, what people need and then cook up an output what you get, why we can't give you more and how you could maybe seek redress. As a nerd, the prospect of expert systems handling the mundane pieces of governance I feel would be fantastic. More than just the nerdgasm of how cool it would be: it would be nearly fair and even handed; it could even be easy to administer; and easy to access.

The movie, Elysium, gives a hint to that sort of a world: expert systems run the world for the citizens so that they can get on with their lives of leisure. It is a dystopia: their system is tilted to be systematically unfair. It automatically delivers luxury to a few people. It doles out misery to the Earthbound folk. I won't give away the ending to a theme in case you want to see it but I will say that it has a happy ending and one that I can get behind.


This article Techies Taking on City Hall points to a future where automation and smart systems can cover the work done by city hall. The questions that comes from that: If city hall processes are automated, will they shrink the work forces? If automation is cheaper to run, will our taxes and service fees drop? Can you imagine government getting smaller and better? It's possible, but it takes courage to make it happen.

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Friday, September 29, 2017 - 01:50