The notion of a smart city is a well developed narrative. The smart city agenda has been described as “the use of technology to shape a better world.” The smart city process involves the capture of big data to make our urban systems more efficient. The promise is that by measuring more things, and by measuring them more accurately, it is possible to optimise the performance of a city.
But what about a smart society?
Could the capturing of data at a societal level optimise the performance and wellbeing of the society? As trust shifts from institutions to technology, could government be replaced by governance the same way currency is being replaced by crypto? These are the questions that many in the blockchain space are asking. Some are even building solutions to help us get there. A number of studies and papers exist to define what a smart society could look like.
Charles Levy and David Wong in their 2014 Big Innovation paper describe smart society as:
“A smart society successfully harnesses the potential of digital technology and connected devices and the use of digital networks to improve people’s lives.”
However, that definition overlooks the human element of engaging and collaborating in a society — beyond simply ‘improving people’s lives.’
“A smart society is an empowered society. Most research inevitably focuses on technology. For some reasons, the human being is excluded. I’m very keen not on the smart ‘thing’, but the ‘smart me’.” — Professor Irene Ng, University of Warwick
So thinking about a smart society involves a discussion which goes far beyond technology.
“What is required is a paradigm shift, not just sensors and technology.” — Will Hutton, Chair of the Big Innovation Centre
Data as Feedback
Feedback loops are an essential force in the buildup and sustainability of natural ecosystems:
Should a smart society not incorporate data as feedback loops within their system of governance to help improve society?
“A smart society is one that generates and uses knowledge to be more successful.” — Charles Leadbeater, author and opinion leader
The City of Eindhoven, Netherlands, has developed a Smart Society Charter, in which they say:
“The most important thing in a Smart Society is that people experience the benefits of what the intensive co-evolution of digital and analogue, virtual and physical, online and offline will bring them.”
A 2017 paper by Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi of The Fletcher School at Tufts University defines a smart society as:
“A society where digital technology, thoughtfully deployed by governments, can improve on three broad outcomes: the well-being of citizens, the strength of the economy, and the effectiveness of institutions.”
The EU’s Smart Society Project has developed A Social Charter for Smart Platforms, in which the societal implications of each component of a Smart Platform is examined in detail. Their three videos envision a society in which all of our daily chores and decisions are managed by smart platforms that share data, without compromising privacy.
Taking all of the studies and papers on smart societies into account, it looks to me that being smart requires large scale data exchange that is purposeful, that solves known problems and that potentially joins up different aspects of life in a society (for example data generated by machines in the Internet of Things and data generated by humans as their Quantified Self). Perhaps it’s accurate to say that for a society to become smart, the players involved must have greater vision and that their vision must extend beyond the capabilities of technology. A smart society should not only embrace technology but should also decisively eradicate every single societal ill.
Perhaps we need a new definition of what it takes to be a smart society.
Smart Society (Newly) Defined
“A smart society is a set of systems that express a consensually established set of values. Everything flows from those values. It is one in which leaders and citizens make data-based decisions which enable constantly improving outcomes in economic prosperity, social well-being, environmental sustainability and good governance. A smart society includes a reward or incentive system that engenders socially desirable and environmentally regenerative behaviours without compulsion or punishment.”
Values of a Smart Society
- Ethics Bind the Society. Every Smart Society — large or small — is guided by its own Charter. This is the highest law of the land, never subject to override by any other law. The Charter is an expression of ethics intended to bind Citizens into a cohesive society by virtue of being commonly cherished.
- Charter is Supreme. All laws, cultural norms, regulations and other societal practices emanate from the Charter. It can be changed by supermajority Citizen Initiative.
- Charter’s Supremacy is Enforced. Any law passed by the legislature or any action by the Administration which contradicts the Charter is promptly declared null and void by the Supreme Court. This is its highest duty.
- Freedom to Leave. Those who cannot or will not abide by the Charter and have not committed serious violations are free to leave, taking their property without punitive measures. New societies may be formed accordingly.
- Sustainable Population. In order to avoid overtaxing the infrastructure of a society, population — including both permanent residents and visitors — is limited to a sustainable number. Beyond that number, people will be assisted in forming another society, which may or may not have the same Charter.
- In addition to common constitutional principles and provisions (such as those relating to human dignity, justice, peace, sustainability, freedoms, and universal rights), the Charter makes explicit a set of values all Citizens are expected to share. Chief amongst these are: 1) a commitment to service as a way of life and 2) an agreement to share anonymised data.
- Citizenship as an Office. The society does not own the people; the people own the society. Preferentially — and there may be other ways to achieve this — the Citizens ARE the government. Citizen becomes an office rather than a birthright. Non-Citizens are then Residents, with certain inalienable rights. Any Resident may choose to become a Citizen by passing an objective testing process similar to that immigrants are expected to pass. Such testing would establish knowledge of the Charter, the operations of government, major societal institutions, and good character. Citizens would have responsibilities to participate in government, which Residents would not have.
- No Parties, Bribery or Gridlock. If Citizen is an optional office, with only Citizens having responsibility for running the society, then important improvements become possible. Citizens may be selected by lottery for staggered terms in the legislature, thereby drastically reducing moneyed influence upon politics and ending political parties and gridlock. Likewise, the judiciary can be selected — at least at the basic level — from Citizens by lottery. Using a parliamentary approach, the administration can then be selected by the legislature based on competence. Officials will be held to higher standards of behavior than others — not lower. They will be expected to recuse themselves from business activities for the term of service, and well-compensated accordingly. The lost Venetian Republic and modern Singapore both offer guidance.
- The size of government is maintained at significantly lower levels than is the norm today and operations are as transparent as possible. Citizens vote not for elected officials, but on outcomes of proposed legislation. Outcomes are simulated using AI and ML and include short-term (< 5 years), medium term (5–100 years) and long-term (> 100 years) outcomes.
- Streamlined, Intelligent Legal System. The legal system is implemented through use of blockchain-based smart contracts, and is based on the minimum number of laws required to peacefully prevent or resolve disputes, protect the society (most especially those without competent adult capacity), enforce honest contracts, and provide for the general welfare in a non-coercive manner. All laws are unambiguous, easily accessed, and with the number of words not exceeding a predetermined threshold.
- Preventative/Restorative Justice. Justice is impartial, swift, rational and primarily preventative and restorative rather than punitive in intent.
- Sovereignty. No consensual act between adults or solely involving one’s own body by a competent adult is criminal, with the caveat that prior to any irrevocable act or commitment those who care may call for a competency hearing.
- Non-coercion. Acts coercive of others, including fraud, are prohibited. Voluntary, honest contracts between competent adults are enforced by the legal system.
- Necessities for All. The production of necessities is based upon creating abundant, sustainable and largely automated sources and systems of the three Pillars of Abundance: matter, energy and organising intelligence. This is a societal responsibility.
- Encouragement Over Coercion. Regulations are replaced, whenever practicable, by systematised incentives including complementary currencies, nudges,and related reward systems.
- Happiness, not Perfection. A culture is fostered in which it is recognised that happiness does not depend on chasing “the best” of something but rather in finding what is “good enough” to meet one’s needs and desires. Excellence is pursued as a matter of personal choice.
- Transparent Security. The society provides for the common defense in a manner open and transparent to the Citizens.
- Bimodal Surveillance. Given that universal surveillance will soon be the defacto reality, a bimodal approach is proposed. Physical and virtual areas are designated either public or private by explicit designation. There is no expectation of privacy in public areas, and any Citizen may examine recordings made in any public area at any time. This greatly improves safety for vulnerable persons traveling alone, and minimizes misbehavior by officials such as police. In private areas, surveillance is prohibited except by express consent of those present, or by Court order under a particular warrant.
- VR for Unrestricted Activities. Everyone has access to advanced AI-generated “virtual worlds” (VR). Some of this blends with their reality, creating augmented environments. Beyond that, all manner of experiences that are considered too dangerous, immoral, impractical or even impossible in the real world will be available to people in VR.
All that remains now is to see whether our civilisation can achieve smart societies — before we no longer have a civilisation.