Table of Contents for Governance Systems Design

Potential future issues

In this chapter we briefly speculate on future topics relating to governance.

Dangerous technologies

Technology will probably continue to progress, and as old techologies are refined and new technologies invented, there will be more ways in which individuals and small groups could cause large amounts of damage. Society will probably continue to debate the wisdom of increasing government power to pre-emptively or rapidly deal with potential threats.

Is software code speech? Software code is just ordinary text, and can be spoken by humans (for example, [1]) or transmitted in any medium in which human languages can be written (for example, on a T-shirt [2]). The algorithmic content of software code can be rephrased into ordinary human language (for example, [3]) or even poetry (for example, [4]). Yet executable software code can also be thought of as a virtual machine, a device which which activated, has some effect upon the world. Consider code for software that effects an action which is often dangerous and criminal. Should this be regulated permissively like speech, or restrictively like a weapon? At first it seems like a solution might be to say that executable software code is a weapon, and English-language descriptions are like speech, but in fact it is trivial to write software code that is not actually directly executable, but may be easily made so (for example, [5]), and somewhat less trivial but still feasible to construct programming languages that use only subsets of English (so that the code is both an English language description, and also directly executable). contains some further examples along the lines of the above.

Basement nukes: What will be done if techology renders weapons of mass destruction so easy to construct that just a few people could do it?

AI: Will research on technologies by regulated that as of yet aren't dangerous but that have the potential to turn dangerous in the future, at a time that is difficult to predict?

Viruses: Biotechology is getting cheaper.

Emergency powers: Will government emergency powers be expanded to allow quicker responses?

Selective security screening/profiling: Will we allow the government to unfairly discriminate in order to minimize the total number of randomized security checks?

Right to bear arms: Will such a right become more or less frequently granted? How to define 'arms'?

Cognitive technologies and privacy

Privacy: As information technology becomes better, breaches of privacy that used to be impossible or infeasibly expensive are becoming routine. Will a right to privacy become more or less frequently granted? How to define it?

Surveillance and mind reading: As information technology becomes better, ubiquitous surveillance is becoming routine. Will there be any limits? Will mind reading be permitted if it becomes more easily possible?

Sousveillance: As a practical reality, information gained via surveillance can be used not only for lawful purposes, but can also be accessed and abused by various personnel in the organization doing the surveillance. Surveillance creates an imbalance of power between the surveillers and the surveilled that encourages abuse, an imbalance made much worse by the secrecy surrounding it. One proposal for 'safe surveillance' is 'sousveillance', which is the idea that the public should have a mechanism to surveil the surveillers (to 'watch the watchers' so to speak).

Surveillance and separation between agencies: Intrusive, ubiquitous surveillance might be more acceptable if the results were truly used only for prevention of weapons of mass destruction; but so far information ostensibly collected to protect the public from mass violence has also been put to use for more pedestrian law enforcement, using legal techniques such as parallel construction. Will future legal systems effectively wall off information gained from Intrusive, ubiquitous surveillance?

Is a computer scan a violation of privacy?: Recently the US government has defended ubiquitous surveillance as not a violation of privacy on the grounds can the information gained by surveillance is not initially seen by any human, but sit in a computer database which is (supposedly) only queried for lawful purposes. Is privacy violated even if no human sees the private information?

Drugs: Do individuals have the right to meddle with their own mind?

Privacy of thoughts traveling over electronic media: If some sort of 'mediated telepathy' is invented, will the mediated thoughts enjoy special protections?

Right to privacy of crypto passwords: As more of life becomes electronic, the consequences of giving passwords in response to a court order will become more expansive, especially given the practical reality that various civil servants will have access to the password and that if one of them should misuse it, it may be hard to trace it to them. Consequences could include irrecoverable theft of crypocurrency (because the password could allow the holder to access your financial accounts), irreversible publication of private information (because a password could allow a holder to read private information, even beyond what a court has ordered), irreversible damage to reputation (because a password could allow the holder to act as you in the eyes of computer networks), loss of information (because the password could allow the holder to delete information), the implantation of malware in one's property, danger to one's person and associates (because the password could be linked to control functions of mechanical devices), an invasion of one's body and mind (because the password could be linked to control of cybernetic augmentation). Will courts treat passwords differently from other information?

Absolute free speech?: A right to free speech may lose its effectiveness due to various exceptions carved out of it. It seems difficult to objectively define the scope of a right to free speech in a satisfying way. Could it be that the only solution to the castration of free speech rights via exceptions is making the right to free speech absolute? If so, it that worth it?

Misc Rights

New rights? What new individual rights will be created or discovered?

Lost rights? Will old 'lost' rights be reinstated? Will current rights be lost?

Universal human rights? Will human rights be regarded as universal, or as merely a legal construct that is useful only in certain situatons? If some of them are regarded as universal, which ones?

Right to suicide? Will a right to suicide be created? This may become more relevant if life extension or uploading technologies are invented.

Population control? Currently demographic projections show population levels hitting a peak and then declining. But if they should rise again, will coercive population control occur?

Eugenics? Old-fashioned eugenics by selective breeding and sterilization is considered unethical, but some cultures have historically practiced it. Will it resurface in modern society? What about biotechnology for changing children's geonomes without either selective breeding or sterilization?

Corporate personhood? Should corporations have the same rights as people? If not, which rights should they have?

The technology of governance

Election methods: Various election methods such as single transferrable vote, approval voting, and various proportional multiwinner systems have been developed, but are not nearly as popular as plurality. These new methods may grow in popularity, and more may be invented.

Online asynchronous direct legislatures (and also proxies): Traditional parliamentary procedure is designed for a medium number of people together in one place at one time, but computerized forums can support a large number of people logging in remotely at different times. New parliamentary procedures are being developed that allow large numbers of people to participate in proposing, debate, and voting in a remote, asynchronous manner.

Computational law (see below): Computer systems will help us to better organize, process, and develop laws; for example, by the use of computerized change-tracking systems to compare the law at different points in time (or in different drafts). Law purports to contain intelligible decision algorithms, yet is typically expressed informally in human languages; efforts are underway to formalize it into languages similar to software programming languages, or to mathematics. Formalized representations of law could allow us to prove theorems about it and to reason about it using computers.

Formal procedure vs values and individuality: Due to the successes of rule-of-law based systems, the modernist project of formalization and standardization, the large number of people in the world, the use of communications technology to connect more people than ever, the phenomena of modern individualist multiculturalism, and the influence of formal mathematics and computerization upon our patterns of thought, there is a movement to further formalize and objectify law, and to treat law as a protocol for interaction or as 'rules of a game' rather than as an expression of morality; but what about the older concepts values, individuality, and individual circumstances? Will the pendulum swing back towards subjective, value-based legal systems?

Cryptographic implementation of voting methods: The field of cryptography has made important advances in the implementation of voting and vote-counting. Perhaps these will be applied in the future.

Nonelectronic fallbacks: If online elections, electronic vote-counting methods, and online parliamentary procedure begin to be applied, surely there will be an complementary effort to develop 'fall-back' systems that can be used without electronic support.

Unequal franchises and online projects: Open, online projects typically have the characteristic that some contributors are vastly more involved with the project than others. In such a situation, one-person-one-vote may not be optimal. A situation similar to contemporary corporations, where some stakeholders have more votes than others, may be more fitting in this case. We can expect to see a renewed emphasis on governance systems in which some members have more votes than others.

Reputation systems: In open projects, the question of who is a member of the project, and (if there is an unequal franchise) how to quantify their member-ness can be tricky. The development of "reputation systems" to quantify member-ness (among other purposes) is underway.

New economic forms: It is likely that new economic forms will be continued to be invented/discovered, with accompanying innovations in governance.

Formal analysis of governance: Analysis of election methods has discovered criteria such as the Condorcet criterion, clone independence, and proportionality, and associated theorems such as Arrow's Theorem; phenomena such as cyclic preferences and associated paradoxes such as agenda control and the irrationality of groups. This research will continue.

Systems that dont rely on irrationality: Many present-day governance systems rely upon human behavior which is common yet thought to be irrational, for example voluntary voting. We can expect efforts to develop governance systems that make no assumptions of irrationality.


Campaign finance rules and freedom of speech; is lobbying a form of corruption?


substantive equality: the modern world has gotten good at giving procedural equality to all parties, so now the focus may move to designing systems that provide substantive equality on top of that

wealth inequality, basic income, and similar: Is it desirable and feasible to reduce wealth inequality? If so, how? Also, is it a good idea to give every a 'basic income' so that they could get by (possibly on a low standard of living) without working?

public goods, intellectual property, culture, minds: How should the production of public goods be funded? What political/economic systems, if any, should surround so-called intellectual property? Should the intellectual components of culture be private property? If technology allows us to directly upload/download information from minds, or even entire minds themselves, should this information receive special treatment in intellectual property schemes? Should your mind, or thoughts within your mind, be able to be legally the property of someone besides yourself (note: under typical patent schemes, some ideas already are)

taxes and cryptocurrency: The application of the technology of cryptography to create crytocurrencies such as Bitcoin raises the possibility of an electronic yet peer-to-peer and anonymity-preserving financial system. In such a system it would be hard for national authorities to detect tax evasion. Will this come to pass? If so, what will be done about it, and what will be the results?

externalities, market failures, monopoly, monosony: Even many free-market proponents typically don't believe that the free market can fix everything. There are externalities (effects that an action has beyond the parties to the action, such as pollution), various market failures, and non-competitive situations such as monopoly and monosony. What should be done about these things?

alternate economic metrics: Economic theorists often prove theorems in terms of opaque 'utility', but for measuring real performance often productivity or monetary metrics such as GDP or per-capita income are used. But these are only an approximation to 'utility'. There is some work on creating other measures, such as attempts to measure happiness. In addition, there are other ways of looking at goals besides maximization of immediate productivity, happiness, or pleasure; one such alternative criterion is sustainability.

Law, courts, modularity and jurisdiction

Algorithmic law: Above, we talked about using computers as librarians to help organize, study, and develop laws. Here, we also note the possibility of automating legal reasoning itself, and even possibly having computer-executable laws that automate some or all of the process of judging. At the least, standards for judging could be distilled into simple flowcharts and web-forms that implement them. It's likely that even many more complex rules could be represented using computer programs or first-order logic or something similar.

Specialization and juries: The idea that you should be tried by a 'jury of your peers' has been turned on its head by legal doctrines that anyone who is in a similar profession as you is biased; the problem with this is that many legal cases require a large amount of specialized knowledge to understand, knowledge that can't be acquired quickly and that few people already have outside of a few related professions. Is this a big enough problem to require change? If so, how should we deal with it?

Evidence rules and juries: The idea of "Tabula rasa" sounded good in theory but in the modern era the contrasting ideal of a critical media consumer or scientist seems to indicate that an individual who is only being fed information from highly partisan/biased sources, and who is not encouraged to seek out facts or 'neutral' advice on their own, is not likely to make a good decision; further, modern thought seems to indicate that control over the agenda and the scope of what information is censored gives a large amount of power to influence others' decisions. Based on this, will we reform evidence rules to allow jurors to independently seek out facts?

substantive equality in court: Modern courts have a high degree of procedural equality, but a low degree of substantive equality, as the amount of legal labor available to a party makes a big difference in their outcomes, and the amounts often required are prohibitively expensive. Can we fix the court system so that the amount of money that one has doesn't impact the quality of justice that one gets? If so, can we do it without sacrificing procedural equality? (note: i have a proposal here: notes-legal-unfairnessResultingFromDifferentBudgets)

sublaw and modularization: Many of the successes of modern political/economic/legal systems might be due to the way in which they are 'modular' or 'federalized' in that they allow private parties to setup their own private institutions (including corporations) ("sub-polities") with their own sets of rules ("sublaws"), allowing legal innovation to take place within these private institutions. Within the institutions, the effects of bad rules mostly impact only those parties unfortunate enought to be entangled with the institution promulgating them. Because of this limitation to the consequences to bad rules, intra-institution legal innovation can take place at a much faster place than in systems where almost all new rules must go through the political system. Can we think of ways to extend this dynamic further?

voluntary law: Today's legal systems are based on compulsory rules in some matters and voluntary contracts in others. Can feasible legal systems be designed that move more of the rules to the voluntary arena? One vision is a world in which citizens voluntarily 'subscribe' to a legal 'franchise' or 'phyle' which has a set of rules/laws. In one version of this vision, there are still national systems with sovereignty over territory, yet much of governance is done by the phyles, which don't claim territory.

micronations: Some have proposed that the world would benefit from having a wider diversity of governments, which could be achieved by having a large number of governments with a small amount of territory. Is this desirable? Is it feasible?

secession: Secession continues to be a contentious and frequently bloody phenomenon. Can secession ever be good? If so, when? Is the cost of secession leading to regions staying together when it would be better if they were apart? If so, can anything be done to make secession more fair and peaceful?

space: It seems likely that sometime, some humans will live their lives in a location other than planet Earth. Will our current territorial political system be extended to space? If so, how?

inner space: Nanotech presents the possibility of tiny robots that infest even the air we breath. Will this be permitted? If so, how will it be regulated?

cults, religion, manufactored consent: Some feel that some institutions are sufficiently manipulative that their members, despite remaining members consensually and often enthusiastically, need to be protected from them. Some people identify 'cults' as such organisations, but how are cults to be distinguished from non-cult religions? Other people claim that all religions are like this. Others claim that modern society itself is like this, and that the consent of people to democratic government is 'manufactored'. Do any of these points of view hold water? Is it ever good to have a policy of 'saving' people from manipulative institutions to which they have given enthusiastic consent, or even just begrudging consent? If so, how are we to identify these manipulative institutions and distinguish them from others, and what should do we about it once we have identified them?


Group minds: It is conceivable that in the future technology will allow us to partially or fully 'merge' minds into a group mind. This raises fundamental questions of identity which of course have bearings on governments and legal systems.

Uploads and copies and life extension

Similarly, it is conceivable that in the future technology will allow us to upload and probably even to make multiple copies of ourselves. This raises yet more fundamental questions of identity.

legal identity of copies: Are independent copies treated legally as independent individuals or is a copyclan just one entity? Does each copybrother get a vote, and if so, what is to stop someone from making a million copies to overrun one election; if not, then what if the copies disagree on how their one vote should be cast?

rights and responsibilities of copies: Is one copy responsible if their copybrother breaks the law? Can a copy legally do things to their copybrothers that would be illegal if done to other people? Can they legally steal from their copybrother? Can they legally kill their copybrothers without the copybrother's consent? Can a copyclan make up its own laws for dealing with each other?

involuntary copies: What are the legal ramifications when an involutary copy is made of someone by a third party?

life extension: If life extension technology prolongs life by a lot (say, thousands of years), how does society respond to this? Would this be considered ordinary, or irresponsible hoarding of resources? Would society become more conservative? Would elders be honored more or less?


History has shown a consistent expansion of the franchise over long periods of time. Will rights be extended to non-humans?

Animal rights: Animals are not as smart as humans but it seems likely that are capable of suffering. Does that mean that we have an obligation to treat them ethically? If so, what rights will they be given?

Posthumans: In the future, technology might find ways to alter humans so much that we no longer consider the resulting being 'human'. Will these 'posthumans' be given the same rights as humans? Or will they be given less rights; or more?

Genetic nonequality, eugenics: Happily, science has shown that people of different races are all pretty much the same and are equally ethical and equally well-suited for politics, for any sort of intellectual expertise, etc. But eventually, technology will probably give us the means to change this; someday it will probably become possible to create people who actually are genetically intellectually and/or ethically superior to humans (either because as a class they will reliably be as good as the best humans today, or because they are better than the best humans today). Will this be permitted? If not, how could it be feasible to stop it? If it occurs, how will we treat these superior people? How will they treat us? And how will our political and legal philosophies and systems, which are based on the equality of all citizens, react to the fact that this new class of citizen can be clearly distinguished and is clearly better than others? (this one is one of the most worrying to me)

Franchise for other intelligent nonhumans (uplifts, ai, ??): Someday we may gain the technological power to create intelligent forms of non-human animals, or even to create intelligent computers. If/when this occurs, it brings up all of the same questions as above.