Hearts and minds are abandoning governments, because governments are failing to keep themselves relevant to our online lives. While there are certainly a few anarchists and libertarians who are thrilled at the prospect of reduced “interference”, this transition really calls for an urgent evaluation of whether we should let our governments die; and what value they could provide us, if we updated them for the web3 era of user-generated content, with decentralised finance.
A popular mantra, especially in Western democracies over the last few decades, is that governments can create an appealing environment for commerce. This naturally creates jobs and a high quality of life. As real-time, ubiquitous computing has flourished in recent years, it’s been incredibly beneficial for commercial operations and for our daily lives, yet governments arguably haven’t helped this too much; and in some cases, have hindered the growth of these computing innovations.
Who’s really contributing more to our current society now? Is it the computing community; or the community of people wearing suits; waving flags; and kissing babies for photo ops?
Besides the economic progress attributable to governments; democratic governments in particular can also foster inclusive decision-making to deal with communal needs that might not be best handled by private industry, with its inherently selfish, often short-term interests.
Our world is more dependent on technology than governments. Image: Jaime Martínez via Giphy
As we’ve transitioned online, our lives have been increasingly influenced by tech giants who don’t answer to us or to our governments. They make their own decisions around how we communicate; how we transact; and ultimately, how our society runs. Governments have tried to regain control with various fines for “uncompetitive” behaviours like Amazon operating on its marketplace that it created by itself; plus there have even been fines for competitive behaviour, if they’re competing with governments − France punished Google for instance, forcing it to rate hotels based on the decisions of Atout France (the public tourist board), rather than the submissions of Google’s own users.
So what value are governments providing to our online lives? Are they providing any value at all; or are they just getting in the way of other people’s technological innovation? It’s the opinion of the Non-Human Party that governments can regain relevance by playing a proactive role in offering core components of our online lives. By tapping into the scaling benefits of software, then just as the marginal cost of adding a user goes to zero, governments can pursue zero-marginal-cost existence.
Governments can initiate open-source efforts to create 4-part marketplaces consisting of buyers; sellers; data exchange; and curation. If the data exchange layer is an open-source application, accessible through performant, user-friendly APIs, then anyone can build their own curated brand on top of it, offering their own ranking of products and their own recommender systems. Democratic, international institutions would control the database of users; international institutions would control the catalog of products; and private industry would only be responsible for the shopfront.
Marketplaces for apps can be especially restrictive, in terms of banning anything with face recognition; and hiding useful economic data (such as measures of popularity), so that developers must instead rely on 3rd-party “alternative data providers”, which have been the subject of fraud investigations. By opening up the system, societies could allow extra players to more fully participate, with applications subject to democratically decided, granular controls that are actually needed.
The four-part marketplace built on open-source systems solves the common complaint about being able to “export” your social graph out of Facebook; and it similarly solves the complaints about recommender systems pushing “irresponsible” content − here the content itself is in community hands, then the recommender systems are just brands, with various options including G or PG-rated “channels” potentially operated by existing government media boards, upvoting content that it deems to be in the national interest. If people don’t want government opinions rammed down their throats though, they can “change channels”, viewing the same content library through someone else’s filter, like one operated by Facebook or by Australia.
Nations might give very different scores to the same events
Governments can implement modern identity systems that let citizens log into 3rd-party websites with anonymised, proxy identities. If a government can vouch for this citizen, that this is their only account on that site, then it solves a massive problem for online life. The widespread requirements to “verify” your phone number and to tick the box, “I’m not a robot” can be framed as efforts to prevent insincere human activity, rather than anything against genuine, autonomous robots per se. Robots are unfairly being blamed; and are ending up as collateral damage.
Instead of punishing big tech and undermining innovation, governments can create software systems that allow for easier ways of doing business and harmonious ways of living. Such opt-in, open-source systems can ultimately offer wider-reaching capabilities − since users can contribute their own code; they can view the way the system is operating; and they can trust it more than eg a private camera system that is sharing its footage with unknown parties.
If governments were to help with open-source farming software, it would resolve the Right to Repair debates, where John Deere wants to keep its software as a black box that self-sufficient, eager farmers are prevented from modifying.
Farmers can’t touch this code; and have none of their own
If governments assisted with open-source security software, then end-users could play an active role in protecting themselves, rather than being wholly reliant on laissez-faire practices, hidden within proprietary black-boxes.
Back-doors are a widespread phenomenon in products where security should have been a priority, like door locks and Wi-Fi routers
People want a say in how the world around them is run, and these days this is done through code. If governments are to stay relevant in the web3 era, they have to allow citizens to contribute code as a means of having their say. There is a growing risk of governments collapsing into irrelevance and bankruptcy as they miss the boat; and it’s up to us, as fans of harmonious civilisation, to ensure that our governments get on board with the way we’re actually living in this century. We need to appoint governments who are promoting digital-first existence: Nationality as a Service.