Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Governance in the Information Age

ABU DHABI – As the year comes to an end, it is only natural to ask what might lie ahead. But, instead of asking what may lie ahead in 2014, let us jump to mid-century. What will governance look like in 2050?

That is what the World Economic Forum (WEF) asked at a recent meeting in Abu Dhabi that focused on the future of governance under three potential scenarios arising from the ongoing information revolution. With that revolution already marginalizing some countries and communities – and creating new opportunities for others – the question could hardly be more timely.

The first scenario that participants considered is a world ruled by so-called “megacities,” where governance is administered largely by major urban agglomerations. The second possibility is a world in which strong central governments use big data to fortify their control. And, in the third scenario, central governments are fundamentally weak, with markets – and the enterprises that dominate them – providing almost all services.

Each of these scenarios is an extrapolation of a current trend. While all of them could be beneficial in some respects, they also have features that, if left unchecked, could lead to dystopian outcomes. Policymakers should already be implementing policies aimed at guiding trends like urbanization, the rise of big data, and the grouping of people into narrow communities, often based on their relationship to the market.

The goal should be to take advantage of these trends’ potential benefits, while ensuring that they do not undermine other critical aspects of governance. For example, although megacities have the potential to create new opportunities for workers and businesses, they cannot solve universal problems like climate change or manage the production and protection of national and global public goods.

Likewise, while the use of big data has substantial problem-solving potential, important questions remain about who owns, who controls, and who regulates the use of the data. The notion of a “datocracy” incites fear of an Orwellian “e-1984.” Indeed, the recent revelations about National Security Agency surveillance programs barely scratch the surface of the issue. After all, the use of big data is not confined to governments and corporations; anonymous criminal groups can easily abuse the information, too.

Finally, while individual choice within markets is often the most efficient way to allocate resources, markets do not produce a sufficient supply of public goods. Indeed, there are some goods that the private sector is simply unable to provide. This system may seem acceptable to those within the “gated communities” that benefit from it, but what about all those left outside?

The WEF’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government, of which I am a part, has considered ways in which information technology can improve governance and reduce feelings of alienation among the governed. The most effective initiatives, the council observed, often arise from partnerships between government and the private sector.

For example, in Kenya, a private company developed a mobile-payments system that allows users to transfer money using cell phones, effectively creating a banking system much more quickly than the government could have done. Once the system was privately created, the government was able to use it to provide additional services.

As a result, a Kenyan farmer in a remote district can now obtain information about crop prices or transfer funds, without having to travel long distances and wait in lines. While such initiatives cannot solve the problem of inequality, they can help to relieve some of its most damaging effects.

At a time of rapid social change and relentless technological advancement, efforts to improve governance – at the local, national, or international level – will require careful thought and experimentation, in order to determine how to balance inclusive decision-making with the ever-evolving needs of markets. As the American diplomat Harlan Cleveland once asked, “How will we get everybody in on the act, and still get some action?”

Consider international institutions. Today, the world is organized into some 200 countries; in all likelihood, it will be in 2050 as well. But only 16 governmental entities account for two-thirds of the world’s income and two-thirds of its population. Many have advocated the use of “double majorities” – which require a majority of votes according to two separate criteria, population and economic output – to elicit action from a manageable number of states while enhancing weaker states’ influence in decision-making.

But, though the G-20 has moved in this direction, the approach to setting a global agenda remains flawed. Indeed, it seems to be most effective in times of crisis; in more normal times, as we have seen, the G-20 struggles to get things done.

Moreover, even if the double-majority system helps to empower some weaker states, it does not account for the role of the world’s smallest countries in global decision-making processes. Although these countries represent a small share of the global population, they comprise a significant majority of the total number of countries.

One potential solution would be for states to represent each other, as occurs in the International Monetary Fund. But the IMF’s experience exposes significant challenges in implementation.

World leaders have not yet figured out how to reconcile the moral conviction that all people are equal with the simple fact that all countries are not. In a global information age, governance systems capable of addressing fundamental issues like security, welfare, liberty, and identity will require coalitions that are small enough to function efficiently and a decision concerning what to do about those who are underrepresented.

Obviously, all of this calls for a lot more investigation. Exploring potential future scenarios, as the WEF has done, is an important step in the right direction.

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  1. Commentedfrancesco totino

    GROWTH Strategy for G20

    2 steps

    A) The EU economic policy must move simultaneously to worldwide (G8 and more ) political and financial reforms .

    No one economic policy strategy (on tax , on workers, on trade, on growth ) will have any effects on sigle countries without a common and accepted worldwide ( no one country excluded) agreement on beating speculation, corruption and finance abuse.

    Financial Derivatives still worth 14 times worldwide stocks exchange markets ...the situation became worse even after the 2008 crisis advice ... what are we waiting to fix rules and make them be observed ??? as every common citiziens have been asking since 5 years ???

    To overcame single countries and worldwide crisis we need to move all together sinergically .

    "Fiscal compact" agreement in Europe has been a good first step .... now we need

    1 ) a Global " Fiscal Compact,

    2) a global Balanced Budged in any other world countries constitution

    3) to abolish all worldwide Tax Heavens and make agrrement among governements to stop corruption in private and public business.

    4) a much more active role of international institutions like IMF , UN and so on in managing international financial and economic rules .

    B) Fixed this worldwide FINANCIAL /ECONOMIC target any single countries should simultaneusly start to reform deeply his domestic not only FINANCIAL but also POLITICAL AND PUBLIC Structure, a structure that has gained in the last years more and more importance in the success of all the economic policy actions. In particular a factor that affects economic development and that is common to both Politics and Pubblic sector is the corruption linked to political patronage, this factor has blocked the efficiency of the social system at any level in some EU countries like Italy, Spain , Portugal, Greece .. and the most LDCs ..

    From these point of view EU should fix immediately some social standard measures index to be applied by the singles EU country members that are particularly affected from inefficiency in political and public sector system. To implement this "Public" reorganization process ( from information, education , management and control) is strategic that Digital Agenda has been realized as soon as possible .

    Eurobond could be a financial instrument useful to solve financial crisis in those countries that can demonstrate to cooperate both in financial and political and public structure reforms . Most of the time Financial results in single countries come out only if some political and pubblic reforms have been done .

    Roma 23 maggio 2012

  2. Commentedfrancesco totino

    That's what i wrote about ... G 20 Worldwide Growth Strategy and global finance rules
    If we want to have a long term balanced social developmente we need take the following actions

  3. CommentedAbhay K

    One way to reconcile the moral conviction that all people are equal with the fact that all countries are not is to create a lower house at the UN i.e. UN Parliamentary Assembly where individuals are represented and transform UN General Assembly, where countries are represented, into the upper house of the UN.

    It is also worthwhile thinking why democracy and 'one person one vote' is good within the borders of countries but not beyond them, at the international level, where 'one country, one vote' principle is practiced irrespective of the great anomalies in population or economic size of the countries.

    Harlan Cleaveland's problem -“How will we get everybody in on the act, and still get some action?” has one possible solution, democratization of the United Nations where free individuals are represented and heard along side their national governments.

    Global Democracy is one way to govern our planet better.

    1. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      The first reaction is of course to agree with what you say about global democracy.
      And I also agree that as long as we concentrate on structural changes, information technology solving our problems while we remain in our present mind-set we will not achieve any solutions.
      The problem with "global democracy" is that we started grudgingly accepting today is that we haven't even figured out how democracy can be maintained in a single country, or even in a single city.
      Even if the fundamentals are good, we seemingly do everything right at the beginning, we start corrupting and twisting the optimal state until we arrive to a very distorted and undesirable state at the end.
      We have so many questions we cannot answer, for example how could we achieve equality when all people, nations, regions are so different from each other? How can we ensure in such an unequal but global system that everybody still receives everything they need for their necessities and everybody can contribute to the system 100% of their abilities?
      We tried everything through our history, all the philosophies, one "ism" after the other, one governing system after the other and we are still stuck in a dead end.
      The last experiment, the "American Dream", with its personal freedom, exemplary democracy further developing the original British model, with free market, unbounded human and natural resources, no equal force in the world, had everything going for it, the rest of the world was simply watching the developing "Hollywood" movie with envy but great still we are watching a sad ending today.
      We have to change the whole mind-set, we have to go "above reason", meaning it is not the system we have to change but ourselves, how we view the world, how we view other human beings, the environment, how we interconnect, in order to exploit, to gain for ourselves or in order to mutually complement, contribute.
      Governance is not the problem, it is our self-absorbed, egoistic human nature, our attitude to each other that is the problem.
      We cannot build starting with the head, we have to build from bottom up.
      By education, by changing human society's values for different ones, we have to completely re-program ourselves and start from the beginning.

  4. CommentedNathan Coppedge

    I can see the justice of those categories (big city, info-government, and market economy), but I also see some blurriness. It seems inevitable that some of the problems that emerge from these paradigms will occur multiplicitously, and likewise the benefits will also occur simultaneously. It seems that the government's solution to the problem may involve coordinating the multiplicity so that it targets the problems. It is not as safe to target just one scenario, since that produces a concatenated contingency, in which, first another scenario may occur, and then the symptoms of that second condition might be misapprehended, while the society is still responding to the theory of the first condition. We cannot say that it is a big city paradigm if it has info-government or market-economy features, according to the model. Or can we? It may be important to identify common features (such as technology, organization, citizenship, and levels of subsistence) before organizing the larger identity of the supposed paradigms, and still further before deciding what to do about them.

    Elsewhere I have posted on the structural nature of information-infrastructure, which I predict takes the form of historic-indexing, hieratics, and modularity (ultimately implicating parsing, aesthetics, value, and meaning also). It is another subject altogether as to what government infrastructure consists in. I suspect that to some extent it is independent from technology and citizenship, but perhaps this is not true. There is a need for greater synergism between oblique categories like citizenship, government, and technology. Wherever possible, environmental and military crises should have quick and simple solutions that are ultimately cost effective. I can cite examples like the coming technology of artificial trees that can convert CO2 into oxygen, as well as the prevalence of basic economics on political conflicts. So long as those in power uphold the undeniable values of the most concerned people, independent of any semantic brand of madness (that is, without distractions), then it appears that these types of solutions will have a certain prevalence and cachet. Someone may argue that it depends on budgets and funds, and that may be true effectively, but somewhere in the picture we have the wealthiest society in history, with more advanced technologies than ever before. It is no surprise that success comes from the private sector if the government is wallowing in debt. But I think it is a mistake to absolve or disinherit government. Centralization is a powerful tool, and likely the main reason for any future success of the big cities paradigm. More and more often, however, government, citizen, market, and technology relationships will be made out of substrates and aggregates whose greatest power is mere coincidence, psychological surprise, pick-up value or apparent cachet. Just like smart phones, sneakers, and drive-in movies, consumer mentalities will take over the large part of reality, almost independent of political conflict.

    I remember hearing about Sept. 11th in my dorm in college, and thinking: this is one big side-step from the consumer reality. As much as concepts like sidestepping, sideways glancing, rubbernecking, and notoriousness have an appeal from contrast to daily life, they should not be adopted as the semantics of political or economic reality. The environmental crisis should not be the crisis of consciousness that some take it to be. More and more we rely on exceptions, and we must embody exceptions. There is no reason that simply because we are survivors like rats, that we must live like rats. We live amongst vast exceptions. It's for us to realize the interplay between exceptions and concrete modalities like the future of cities.

    How to make citizenship function? How to make computers function? How to make trustworthy projections? Although some specialists will doubtless be concerned with international relations, weather disasters, and the role of government, most people are more concerned with adaptivity and the personal portfolio of consumer options.

    One question might be to ask, how to we make the consumer work for the environment, or how do we make the consumer work for government? The subjects addressing the future citizen are not much different from the subjects concerning artificial intelligence, in Wallach and Allen's book Moral Machines. Instead of being plugged into an artificial input-output map, we're given a smart phone, a telephone number, an e-mail address, a physical location. We plug in our preferences and try to make the best choices. It can be seen as functioning intellectually or animalistically, just as Aristotle wrote millenia ago.

    Fundamentally, there is a technological solution, which involves infrastructure and levels of citizenship. And there is the functionalist solution, which is pure necessity. So on one level, society depends on an accurate assessment of risk, which in another way is merely competence with resources (space mining, ubiquitousness of solar power, permanent space stations, new energy utilities, for example). Does the future of the city need to involve space mining, ubiquitous technologies, solving environmental problems, the role of government, in any way that is not sheerly relative? I don't think so. Those phenomena work at the purely functional level, resolved by emergent exceptions and assessments of risk. Although the functional level affects which smart phone we use and the quality of paving on the roads, it may be evident that every element of infrastructure contributes to the baseline function. Some aspects of infrastructure even control the ease of producing perishables. Theories can emerge about efficient food that is filling and nutritious, and how to hook healthy people into a high-class economic program. I'm surprised that this (to my knowledge) has not already been implemented. Stripping social paradigms of risky variables produces streamlined modalities that function like a computer. Today's youth has a lot of creative potential, and expects to be plugged into the grid. we cease to benefit by selfish, end-user oriented behaviors. We start to benefit by generic, perfectible organization, combined with specialist tools that are easy to use. On one hand there is the need to eliminate all headaches from economics and consumer technology. This would greatly improve and streamline functional process. Anomie and lethargy are largely a myth in the context of efficient technologies. Great things can be achieved with the press of a button. Laziness can be disregarded. We want our buttons to do the right things. Like, the button we can toggle into several different functions. People want to integrate with technological categories. It requires perfectible information, and consumable citizenship.

    My solution to the three-way city problem is that government becomes a profitable consumer platform, both using and rewarding consumers. This has the effect of binding the substrate of consumer items, which is the key byproduct of global paradigms, with market factors and the economic unknown. Big cities, on the other hand, are inevitable. But there is nothing especially dangerous about this, besides resource consumption. There should be more standard (modular) organization of city construction, to serve the integration of world governments and global citizens. This will not only serve to promote technological advances, but will cheapen small programs while strategizing large ones. The result will be a kind of transparent urban platform, the kind of platform that is already desired for the internet citizen. Signs of this have been seen in Stanford University, for instance, where many campus locations have access to T1 high-speed internet. Wiring cities is a minimum of infrastructure, and it is surprising that the cost of such informational utilities could be considered prohibitive by large organizations, including the government.

    The earlier standby in the civilian metaphor for technological citizenship is said to be public booths and terminals, which can have the full potential of creative license with computers. There is a lot of potential with open-ended programs (programs that design programs), which can be used to provide quick access to computer-generated knowledge, predictions, advice, and customizable output like (perhaps most simply) fortune cookie fortunes. Cheap info-luxuries are under-used (perhaps sometimes falling prey to the advertising distraction, which has hurt a lot of people), and with an appropriate platform would grant considerable utility to the borderline between the citizen and government. Medicine should be enough-established that for-pay medical tests supporting research are ubiquitous options for every citizen. Citizens ---the consumable citizenship citizens I envision for the future---should be able to safely hack their way to government influence (or at least virtual influence), and earn computer-customized awards, statuses, and applications or options based on their commitment and talents playing out in society. This is the opportunity for merging the present Republic with the future's citizen-gamer platform. Thousands have bought into it by reading science fiction novels, and seeing how spaceship are run by A.I. and intelligent humans surfing on life support. Earth is the opportunity for material resources that are not present on a space ship, and it has resulting lucritous options for designing human interfaces, both for strengthening organizations, and for leveraging the value of everyday citizenship. Even if dollar amounts cannot be paid to college-age research participants (and I doubt this), unused computing power makes possible, with the correct applications, considerable customization and enhancement of the human interface. Although one projection of this is greater public interface presence (say, at Starbucks, or City Hall), information as we know has a lot of potential on any platform that has gone unused. What some have predicted as the 'practical' future of games could easily be modes of thought, reference, and biomeasurement that are un-cliche, engrossing people in meaningful adventure citizenship. Ideally, people could be paid to do whatever they want to do with information or experience, because, with the correct assessment and integration, these things are useful for research into human functionality. And if not, then the person can be provided with advice on how to get what they want / and or function. That paradigmatic choice, between usefulness and functional A.I. is a guiding paradigm for future generations of technology, whether we realize it or not. The role of the city will seem like an entertainment feature, a conservative 'node' which has done its best to secure commonplace gratification. The same is already true between internet consumers and Bill Gates. But in the future, government and fashionable businesses will seem equally significant, simply by plugging into the system. In this way, the consumer platform is what saves the urban infrastructure. To a large extent, other factors are a function of resource allocation, which has grown to be controlled by power-wielders well beyond the common kind of ken. Consumers are writing a blank check for space mining, just as they take for granted the graphic performance of their console games. The same blank check might easily secure the successful performance of our future urban environment. In some ways its about consumer satisfaction---ironically, the hunger that drives resource allocation---while in other ways its simply a metaphor. What if the future were spoken by a poet? It's a question we can ask, even if we don't have the technical know-how to make it seem ethical.

  5. Commentedjean nutson

    The fact that the power of most central governments have greatly dwindled especially during these times of economic and social crises makes it more imperative and important for the use of information technology tools such as the computer and the internet especially by the bigger political organizations such as the IMF, UN, WORLD BANK etc. in conducting their roles and functions ,in other words the need for a more coordinated and centralized global government is needed than ever before for effective governance.

  6. CommentedRobert Lowry

    Using big data to aid governance will be unsuccessful where the potential for Groupthink is not acknowledged. See