The Tech We Need for 21st Century Democracy with Divya Siddarth

May 25, 2023

Democracy in action has looked the same for generations. Constituents might go to a library or school every one or two years and cast their vote for people who don't actually represent everything that they care about. Our technology is rapidly increasing in sophistication, yet our forms of democracy have largely remained unchanged. What would an upgrade look like - not just for democracy, but for all the different places that democratic decision-making happens?

On this episode of Your Undivided Attention, we’re joined by political economist and social technologist Divya Siddarth, one of the world's leading experts in collective intelligence. Together we explore how new kinds of governance can be supported through better technology, and how collective decision-making is key to unlocking everything from more effective elections to better ways of responding to global problems like climate change.


Tristan mentions Elon Musk’s attempt to manufacture ventilators early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. Musk ended up buying over 1,200 ventilators that were delivered to California.


Divya Siddarth is co-founder of the Collective Intelligence Project, an experimental research organization that advances collective intelligence capabilities for the democratic and effective governance of transformative technologies. She is a Research Associate at the Ethics in AI Institute at Oxford University, and holds positions as a research director at Metagov and at the RadicalXChange foundation. Divya has consulted with CHT on AI safety and governance, and advises in a voluntary capacity.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  1. Collective intelligence can help us solve thorny issues in an imperfect but meaningful way. Wikipedia’s system of collective editing allows us to arrive at a process for adjudicating the truth, and Taiwan deployed amateur fact checkers to combat misinformation from China, for example. 
  2. Collective intelligence is a wide-ranging field with natural origins. It can be observed among root systems and bee swarms as well as the technologies and processes through which we make and execute major collective decisions. Examples include democracies, markets, and institutions.
  3. Newer collective intelligence systems may help address some of our thornier issues when it comes to democracy. Here’s a rundown of some new mechanisms we can use to upgrade democracies: Ranked choice voting improves fairness in elections by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Sortition is the election of public officials using a random representative sample; those selected to serve can prioritize studying specific policy decisions instead of campaigning. In a liquid democracy, citizens delegate their vote to a person or institution who knows more about issues than they do. 
  4. Collective intelligence can unlock better ways to respond to global problems. It’s compelling to think of liquid democracy, for example, in the context of governing social media platforms - content moderation could be delegated to a trusted person or organization. Liquid democracy makes use of our instinct to delegate decision-making when we ask opinions of others.

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