The Mechanocracy Manifesto

By the machines, for the people.

Image Source: Gerard Julien, AFP/Getty Images

Mechanocracy n. A system of government by a machine, or a collection of machines. Origin: mekhane (Greek; machine) + -kratia (Greek; power, rule)

Ever since the invention of agriculture and the establishment of settlements, and thereby, the emergence of civilization, the issue of governance has held a central role in human society. Over millennia, we have experimented with various forms of autocracy, aristocracy, and democracy. With most countries in the world today being democracies, it is hardly surprising that it is frequently touted as the ultimate in governance. After all, what could be better than what Abraham Lincoln described in his Gettysburg Address as a ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’?

A democracy, in general, is better than an autocracy or an aristocracy. There are exceptions, of course, in each camp. Most democratic countries are described as ‘flawed democracies’, with dysfunctional and corrupt governments, and in many cases, abysmal levels of civil liberty. These are countries where ignorant and/or unscrupulously provincial people vote corrupt politicians to power. Of the few countries run by self-described communist governments that are essentially aristocracies or autocracies, China — having shunned communism for capitalism — is the sole, exceptional success.

Even in the democratic countries not described as ‘flawed’, there is really only one motivation for individuals to enter politics — a desire for power, always couched in language that gives the impression that ‘public service’ and ‘patriotism’ are the motivating factors. The fact that the populace lacks the faculty for critical thinking ensures that people are willing to fight (and vote) for their favourite politician. During the United States presidential election in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected to power, he was considered a veritable saint by his rabidly liberal supporters. He even had admirers abroad, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for nothing, which he continues to struggle to give a semblance of having earned (not that an award given to such dubious people and organizations as Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Al Gore, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and others requires deserving).

The appalling state that the world is in is blatantly evident in the fact that whistleblowers of governmental corruption and the enablers of whistleblowers — Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, to name two — are either incarcerated or forced into exile by governments that are supposed to be working for the people that elected them to power. Transparency is an anathema even to democratic governments, as transparency leads to accountability, and accountability — for these incompetent governments — leads to loss of power.

The dishonesty of politicians and the ignorance and tribal mentality of the electorate makes democracy fundamentally flawed, no matter how romantic a concept it may be. What, then, is the alternative? To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, our current system is a compromise for the governance of the people and the administration of things, for things need to be administered, and people, in some ways, need to be governed. The main function in the administration of things is resource allocation — a task that computers are exceptionally good at. Not only are computers good at resource allocation, as machines, they are objective. Machines built to make decisions using some form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) — unless programmed to do so — are not biased against any section of the population. Machines are not corrupt, machines have no family to promote, machines can be programmed to be transparent without complaining, and more importantly, machines are not motivated by power.

On the other hand, governance requires human intervention, such as in the making of new laws. In a democracy, people who have no qualifications whatsoever are in charge of making laws for the sole reason that a population that lacks judgment gave them that responsibility. Lawmaking can, instead, be assigned to a group of experts — chosen in a meritocratic fashion — that takes decisions based on data. In fact, most of the heavy-lifting in governance today is done by bureaucrats who are chosen based on their ability, and it is trivial to extend this to lawmaking. Eventually, with sufficient advances in AI, even this task can be assigned to truly unbiased machines.

Thankfully, the technological revolution has started undermining governments. The growing financial clout of the private technology industry aside, recent innovations such as cryptography, crypto-currencies, anonymizing networks, balloon-borne Internet, and the like are springing up that governments wield little control over. Technology is giving people unprecedented independence in processes that have traditionally been under governmental regulation.

Governments have taken note of this, and have begun fighting back. From forcing tech companies to share user data, restricting Bitcoin, and ludicrous attempts to curtail the influence of these companies, the power-hungry are trying hard to cling on. But it is bound to be a fruitless attempt. The sweeping tsunami wave of technology is bound to incessantly shake the foundations of today’s governments until it crumbles, to be replaced by a system that is optimized for humanity’s most prosperous future. With due apologies to Marx and Engels, let the ruling classes tremble at a mechanocratic revolution. The people have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.