As history has repeatedly shown, political systems come and go. Given our rapid technological and social advances, it’s a trend we can expect to continue. Here are 12 extraordinary — and even frightening — ways our governments could be run in the future.
Similar to Plato’s “government of the wise,” a noocracy would be, in the words of “biosphere” popularizer Vladimir Vernadsky, “a social and political system based on the priority of the human mind.” Think of it as a kind of futuristic global brain configured for governance. Coined by the Jesuit mystic Teilhard de Chardin, it would be the evolutionary outgrowth of democracy, a flexible and adaptable system comprised of conscious, systematic, and institutionalized elements which will operate in decentralized autonomous subsystems. One manifestation could see the rise of the Noosphere and the application of the “syntellect” — a unified or hive-like civilizational mind that integrates all individual minds, both natural and artificial, likely through the cumulative effects of informational networks.
In a cyberocracy, governments, or governmental institutions, would rule by the effective use of information. Back in 1992, David Ronfeldt identified two ways in which cyberocracy could manifest itself: Narrow (A form of organization that supplants traditional forms of bureaucracy and technocracy); Broad ( A form of government that may redefine relations between state and society, and between the public sector and the private sector). Again, information-driven decision making is key. Ronfeldt says that “bureaucracy depends on going through channels and keeping information in bounds; in contrast, cyberocracy may place a premium on gaining information from any source, public or private. Technocracy emphasizes ‘hard’ quantitative and econometric skills, like programming and budgeting methodologies; in contrast, a cyberocracy may bring a new emphasis on ‘soft’ symbolic, cultural, and psychological dimensions of policymaking and public opinion.” The point of a cyberocracy is to overcome the deficiencies posed by traditional bureaucracies. Using the latest communication and surveillance technologies, a cyberocracy would react quickly to relevant information from the source of a problem. Eventually, a cyberocracy could use administrative AIs — or even an AI as head of state, forming a “machine rule” government.
An AI Singleton
But once an artificial intelligence becomes sophisticated and powerful enough, it could set itself up as a Singleton — a hypothetical world order in which there is a single decision-making agency (or entity) at the highest level of control. It could do this either overtly or covertly. To do so, a superintelligent singleton would use surveillance, mind-control technologies, robotics, and other forms of artificial intelligence, not to mention the use of apocalyptic threats. More optimistically, an AI singleton could reshape our planet (or universe) to maximize our welfare.
Democratic World Government
We may very well be on our way to achieving the Star Trek-like vision of a global-scale liberal democracy — one capable of ending nuclear proliferation, ensuring global security, intervening to end genocide, defending human rights, and putting a stop to human-caused climate change. Thus far, globalization appears to be unfolding across three stages. The first phase is cultural globalization, the second economic, and the third political. The first and second stages are largely complete, though some protectionism still exists. The final stage has proven to be the most difficult; nation-states are incredibly hesitant to give up sovereignty. But the dissolution of borders may be an inexorable trend that underlies civilizational development, as witnessed by the unification of China under the Qin Dynasty, the formation of the United States of America, the current experiment known as the European Union, and the likely unification of all African countries. Taken to its logical conclusion, we may eventually achieve a democratic planetary government.
But if one overarching global system is not to your liking, you can always go non-local. In his book, Polystate: A Thought Experiment in Distributed Government, Zach Weinersmith speculates about what governments would look like if they didn’t rule over geographic locations, but instead ruled over minds. Weinersmith, who is best known for his webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, describes the polystate as a geopolitical entity in which multiple overlapping states exist — but each “state” consists of citizens who have agreed to the laws of a single non-geographic state; typical geographically-bound nations, or traditional “geostates”, would be replaced by “polystates”, which are collections of “anthrostates”. So it’s not a particular form of government, but a meta-government in which each person is free to choose a new constitution on a semi-regular basis without having to physically relocate. Writing in Gadfly, Daniel Listwa explains it like this: “In other words, while a fascist living in a democratic geostate would have to abide by the democracy’s laws, in a polystate a fascist could choose to live in a fascist anthrostate. While the laws of the fascist state will apply to her, they may not apply to her neighbors, who may be citizens of a social democracy or communist state. Citizens would be regularly given the opportunity to change anthrostates, allowing them to experiment with forms of governance and easily escape the reign of a government they do not agree with. This is in stark contrast to the modern geostate, where even if one can change government, it is with great difficulty. The implications explored in Polystate are enormous. Just take the growth of North Korea, for example. As Weinersmith writes, “It is hard to imagine that he [Kim Jong-un] would have this larger population if any of his citizens could have freely switched to any other government.” Relatedly, there’s Frey and Eichenberger’s Functional Overlapping Jurisdictions (FOCJ) to consider, a moderate form of panarchy.
This is the brainchild of George Mason economist and futurist Robin Hanson. “Under futarchy, we would vote on values, but bet on beliefs,” Hanson told io9. “That is, elected representatives would formally define and manage an after-the-fact numerical measure of national welfare. Market speculators would set prices that estimate national welfare conditional on adopting proposed policies. When the market estimate of welfare conditional on adopting a policy is higher than the estimate conditional on non-adoption, that proposal becomes law.”
Also known as liquid democracy, it’s described by Bryan Ford as a new paradigm for democratic organization where individual vote transfers, or delegation, is emphasized over mass election. In such a system, voting power is vested in delegates rather than representatives. In a delegative democracy, members of the electorate can have the choice of participating actively in the organization by becoming a delegate, or participating passively by delegating their individual vote to a delegate. This way, a person doesn’t have to involve themselves in an issue or campaign that doesn’t concern or interest them. But key to this process would be to chose a delegate that can be trusted with the vote. As Ford writes, An individual can choose her delegate on whatever proximity basis she feels is most important to her, such as geographic locality, cultural or religious identity, economic situation, or other common interests. In the future, I can imagine artificial intelligences taking on the role of delegates. The AI will learn your political preferences and priorities, and accordingly vote on your behalf. The trick to delegative democracy, of course, is ensuring that votes aren’t passed on to a delegate through coercion, bribes, or other trickery.
For those of you looking to escape into international waters, there’s always seasteading to consider — modular, autonomous, voluntary city-states. They could take on the form of abandoned ocean liners or anything else that floats. The basic idea is that entrepreneurs and social experimenters can accomplish their goals without all those pesky laws and taxes getting in the way, so there’s a definite libertarian element to this political system, if it can even be called that.
As people live increasingly longer, and as we gradually phase into the era of radical life extension, there’s the distinct possibility that the aged will hold on to their wealth and power. It’s a prospect that’s been covered extensively in scifi, including Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire in which gerontocrats wield almost all capital and political power, while the younger populations live as outsiders. Frederik Pohl’s Search the Sky features a gerontocracy masquerading as a democracy. It’s a theme that was also addressed in the 1967 novel Logan’s Run, written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. In this story, an ageist society, in order to thwart elderly influence and a drain on valuable resources, executes everyone over the age of 21.
Coined by Australian philosopher John Burnheim, a demarchy, or lottocracy, is a form of government in which the state is governed by randomly selected decision makers who have been selected from a pool of eligible citizens. Demarchies have been portrayed extensively in scifi, including Alastair Reynolds’s Revelation Space series of novels (where it’s used to flatten hierarchies), Arthur C. Clarke’s Songs of Distant Earth (the futuristic society on Thalassa is ruled by demarchy), and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (where the Martian government’s lower house is selected by sortition).
A Dark Enlightenment
If a band of wingnut anarcho-capitalists get their way, we’ll take one step forward by overthrowing liberal democracy — and then take two steps back by re-instating a monarchist or authoritarian system. The ringleader of this neoreactionary movement, or dark enlightenment as its called, is Mencius Moldbug. He advocates for the revival of the traditions of Western civilization, or a return to a “natural” order of things. Scarily, the idea has received support from some futurists and Silicon Valley types. In his Baffler article, “Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich,” Corey Pein writes: “TechCrunch, which first introduced me to Moldbug, treats the “Geeks for Monarchy” movement as an Internet curio. But The Telegraph says, yes, this is “sophisticated neo-fascism” and must be confronted. Vocativ, which calls it “creepy,” agrees that it should be taken seriously. The science fiction author David Brin goes further in his comment on a Moldbug blog post, accusing the blogger of auditioning for the part of Machiavelli to some future-fascist dictator. Neoreactionaries are explicitly courting wealthy elites in the tech sector as the most receptive and influential audience. Why bother with mass appeal, when you’re rebuilding the ancien régime? “ Thankfully, these guys are still on the sidelines of credibility, which is likely where they’ll stay.
Speaking of regression, there’s also the possibility that some kind of catastrophic event will force us to revert to paleolithic politics. In the event of some kind of environmental or technological catastrophe, we may have no choice but to do as our distant ancestors did: live day-to-day in small tribal bands, eeking out an existence by hunting and foraging. ( By George Dvorsky from io9.com )