Home Philosophy The Onlife Manifesto
Three Levels of Analysis
The first level of analysis concerning any good onlife governance regards the foundations of what Floridi conceives as an “efficient” and “intelligent” multi-agent system, the model of which may represent a goal that could successfully orient our political strategy in terms of transparency and tolerance: “Finding the right balance between representation and resolution, while implementing the agreement to agree on the basis of ethical principles that are informed by universal human rights, is a current major challenge for liberal democracies in which ICTs will increasingly strengthen the representational side.” On the basis of this right balance between representation and resolution, we have thus to assess how the information revolution reshapes models of political legitimacy and democratic processes, much as republican institutions that shall “respect equal worth of all individuals” (Post 2009). Since this is the subject matter of Floridi's contribution in this volume (see above, pp. xx–xx), let me skip this part of the analysis.
The second level concerns Friedrich Hayek's classical distinction between kosmos and taxis, i.e., evolution vs. constructivism, spontaneous orders vs. human (political) planning. Recent empirical evidence confirms that the informational complexity of human interaction is not reducible to taxis alone and, moreover, orders spontaneously emerge from the complexity of the environment through specific laws of evolution (Pagallo 2010). Most of the time, today's research on governance, good governance, and good enough governance focuses on the taxisside of political dynamics, namely, the decisions of institutional, societal, and economical actors, as a set of rules or instructions for the determination of other informational objects and agents in the system. Still, we should reflect on the properties of the onlife multi-agent systems as a complex network that adapts to the environment through learning and evolutionary processes, such as sophisticated signalling and information mechanisms. Complex systems are characterized by a collective behaviour that emerges from large networks of individual components, although no central control or simple rules of operation direct them. Accordingly, legislators, policy makers and, generally speaking, governance actors shall preventively understand the nature of the field in which they aim to intervene or, maybe, interfere (Pagallo 2012a). The point can be illustrated with a metaphor of Lon Fuller: “The law can act as a gardener who prunes an imperfectly growing tree in order to help the tree realize its own capacity for perfection. This can occur only when all concerned genuinely want the tree to grow, and to grow properly. Our task is to make them want this.” Of course, as it occurs with all the metaphors, we should take Fuller's parallel with a pinch of salt: in the case of the good onlife governance, the “tree” can indeed strike back, as shown by how many attempts to govern the dynamics of complex multi-agent systems on the internet have been unsuccessful because of the response of the kosmos. Recall the US Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), and how these bills miserably failed in winter 2011–2012.
The third level of the analysis can be summed up with the distinction between game players and game designers (Floridi 2013; Pagallo 2012b). Although political planning does not exhaust the complexity of human interaction, it does not follow, pace Hayek, that taxis cannot shape the evolution of kosmos. On the contrary, political decisions can determine the rules of the game as well as the very architecture of the system. Consider the ways some Western democracies and authoritarian regimes alike have specified the functions of state action on the internet. As mentioned above in the introduction, the “three strikes”-doctrine has been endorsed by some countries, such as France or South Korea, to enforce copyright laws, whereas systems of filters and re-routers, detours and dead-ends, have been adopted by such countries, as China, to keep individuals on the state-approved online path. Although some of these architectural measures are not necessarily digital, e.g., the installation of speed bumps in roads as a means to reduce the velocity of cars, current advancements of technology have obliged legislators, policy makers, and governance actors to forge more sophisticated ways to think about legal enforcement and, moreover, the information revolution has made such decisions a critical part of the governance of the entire system. This is why, on 19 April 2012, Neelie Kroes properly insisted on the open structure of the internet and its neutrality as key principles of this very governance: “With a truly open, universal platform, we can deliver choice and competition; innovation and opportunity; freedom and democratic accountability” (Kroes 2012, p. 2).
These different levels of analysis, to be sure, affect each other: game designers should take into account the development of spontaneous orders, much as, say, the transparent governance of a complex multi-agent system can ultimately hinge on the technicalities of design mechanisms. By paying attention to the specificity of the political dimension in our concept reengineering exercise, however, let me prevent a twofold misunderstanding. At times, scholars address the challenges of the information revolution to the traditional models of political legitimacy and democratic processes as if the aim were to find the magic bullet. Vice versa, others have devoted themselves to debunk these myths, such as a new direct online democracy, a digital communism, and so forth, by simply reversing the paradise of such techno-enthusiasts (Morozov 2011). All in all, we should conceive today's information revolution in a sober way, that is, as a set of constraints and possibilities that transform or reshape the environment of people's interaction. On one hand, this profound transformation affects norms, competences, and institutions of today's governance, much as people's autonomy and the right of the individuals to have a say in the decisions affecting them. What is at stake here revolves around a new “right balance” between representation and resolution: suffice it to mention the debate on the role that national sovereign states should have in today's internet governance, vis-à-vis such technical organizations as, for example, ICANN. On the other hand, what makes the governance of ICTs-driven societies unique concerns how the properties of today's kosmos may affect political planning and, hence, the design of any good onlife governance, i.e., the second and third levels of abstraction illustrated with Fig. 2 above. Next section deepens this latter viewpoint with some tenets of network theory and, more particularly, in accordance with the topological properties of
Fig. 3 Three topological models
today's online kosmos and the emergence of spontaneous orders. Then, Sect. 5 brings us back to the taxis side of the onlife governance, by examining the ways in which the decisions of game designers can impinge on collective and individual autonomy.
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