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Policy Implications

1.3.1 Authentic Participation

As we have implied above, votes should probably not only be weighted to justly engage all relevant stakeholders; moreover, the process that precedes voting should be designed in structured ways and supported by innovative technologies to support participants capitalize on what we refer to as collective intelligence mal (Malone 2006) and collective wisdom (Christakis 1996; Flanagan and Christakis 2009). Research in these fields is rising rapidly. Scientists at the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT (Malone 2006) founded by Thomas Malone in 2006 focus on the very basic research question: How can people and computers be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before? The Wisdom Research at the University of Chicago (2007– 2011) led by John Cacioppo (Cacioppo 2007) aspired to define wisdom, to explore the relationship between expertise and wisdom and to discover how experience could increase wisdom. The Institute for twenty-first century Agoras founded in 2003 by Aleco Christakis (Christakis 2003), is a leader in world-wide applications of their Structured Dialogic Design Process (SDDP) methodology (originally developed by John Warfield and Alexander N. Christakis in the early 1970s (Christakis 1996; Christakis 1973; Warfield and Cárdenas 1994). The SDDP enables a diverse group of stakeholders to engage in a democratic and structured dialogue, reach a consensus and take actions, especially when participants represent diverse points of view, competing interests and different backgrounds. In Europe there is still very little research on these issues. The most visible initiatives come from the EC. The Onlife Initiative has probably created some momentum towards identifying the concepts that might require re-engineering in the digital era. The concept of freedom has been central in the Onlife Manifesto: “our selves are both free and social, i.e., that freedom does not occur in a vacuum, but in a space of affordances and constraints: together with freedom, our selves derive from and aspire to relationships and interactions with other selves, technological artifacts, and the rest of nature. As such, human beings are 'free with elasticity', to borrow an economic notion.” The challenge is how to manage and fine-tune this elasticity. The FUTURIUM, also an initiative of the Digital Task Force, invites citizens from across Europe to reflect on future European policies and propose and discuss ideal futures. The aim is to design rather than to anticipate or predict the future. Will this initiative become a new standard in Europe? Moreover, will FUTURIUM expand to include sophisticated algorithms to secure authentic participation? Stakeholder analysis, weighted voting, collective intelligence, collective wisdom, and management of complex societal systemic problems are just a few of the disciplines that need to be supported and developed further. Even when the theoretical challenges are resolved, we will need to develop techno-social systems like the ones' under development by the Agoras Group that implement accompanying theory.

1.3.2 Respect Human Cognitive Limitations

Since the time that cognitive psychologist George Miller (Miller 1956) discovered that our short-term memory can only hold seven, plus or minus two, items and John Warfield (Warfield 1988) proposed that this number falls down to three items when we are expected to perform any operations on them (such as compare them), scientists have been aware of this eminent cognitive limitation. The overwhelming bombardment of today's youth (and not only) with information through digital screens that demand their attention a significant part of a day (according to EUKIDS Online research the average time spent online by 9–16 year olds is 88 min per day in front of computers; (Livingstone et al. 2011) has brought to light another great limitation of our cognitive abilities: our attentional abilities are also quite limited! It should therefore come as no surprise that the prevalence of the attention deficit syndrome (i.e., ADHD) has increased significantly over the past two decades of the information revolution. Furthermore, with the number of options increasing and the impact of our choices becoming less predictable, we need access to artificially intelligent agents to support us in evaluating options. At the same time, with the number of “intelligent,” “living” digital creatures surrounding us also increasing exponentially, we might even have to fight for attention and personalization.

It is therefore not accidental that the Onlife Manifesto recommends, “Societies must protect, cherish and nurture humans' attentional capabilities,” and concludes “more collective attention should be paid to attention itself.”

1.3.3 Technologies to Enhance Human Cognitive Limitations

Future citizens will have to take a lot more decisions than they do today and they will have to do this a lot more frequently. Alternatives are becoming not only progressively more complex and their characteristics concealed and convoluted, but in addition one's experience, perception of the world, and even one's own reality becomes increasingly diminished and subject to manipulation. If today's citizens feel powerless to participate in the decision making process and their voice having no reasonable possibility to be heard, how would citizens of the future feel like if we do not address these problems? The question is what would it take to design new systems of governance in which people's authentic and real wishes can be taken into account. Future citizens should somehow become capable of harvesting their collective intelligence and their collective wisdom rather than allowing personal interests and pathetic behaviors of individuals prevail in the decision making process. Within the next decade we ought to develop tools that would allow us to browse and interact not only with information but also with simulations and predicted futures that might emerge depending on the choices we might make. Certainly, we will be forced to rely almost exclusively on technology. New forms of systemic vulnerabilities will arise from the increasing reliance on informational infrastructures. Power games in online spheres can also lead to undesirable consequences, including the disempowering of people through data manipulation. The repartition of power and responsibility among public authorities, corporate agents, and citizens should be more balanced. Research and tools to combat these threats become an absolute priority.

Finally, since technology will be essential, the democratization of the processes of design and development of new technologies becomes a requirement. We must guarantee access and simplicity of interfaces.

 
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