As the world leadership nervously watches the dark drama of the US Presidential elections being played out, they are also coping with the sour aftertaste of Brexit aftermaths. The growing consensus seems to be that the average voter cannot be relied on to make wise decisions.
But imagine a world where a voter goes into a ballot box with a smartphone and punches in: Tell me what have I decided? AI computes all the facts and figures related to the vote, even configuring in last-minute campaign promises and divulged figures to emerge within the last 24 hours, and tells the voter: “You have decided against Brexit.” or “You have chosen Clinton.” When the voter than asks, “Why?”, AI might tell the voter: “1: You have chosen economic growth and stability as number one priority, with a weight of 40%; a Brexit Yes vote would meet unstable financial markets, potential loss of jobs as London no longer becomes the EU financial centre; and resultant social instability. 2: You have rated your need for safety from terrorists as second most important issue with the weight of 35%. Given that terrorism will not be affected by the proposed set of rules after Brexit, your concerns about immigration have been outweighed by growth and stability by 50% and so on and so on.
Would smarter, better-informed voters make for better democracy? And can AI contribute to this? I myself vote in the US and when I go down the ballot, by the time I arrive at the choices for local district judges and supervisors, I have no idea who they are, what their track records have been, and how I really ought to decide. I used to rely on combination of key websites and organisations to get some direction, but in truth, I would rather make my own decisions, woefully uninformed as I am.
To make matters worse, this has been the watershed year for elections shaped by social media; a time of shallow, one-click decisions made by a wilfully ignorant electorate misled by cynical politicians. We have been thrust into a precarious world of immediate and emotionally-gratifying popular referendums: Greek voters refusing to accept austerity, Irish voters demanding same-sex marriage and now the British voters demanding an exit from the European Union. Yet the referendums are sending the world into a tailspin. Calling a referendum on an electorate that has been groomed to rely on career politicians to make decisions on their behalf has shown its uncertain consequences. It begets the question: Can you trust the average voter really know what they are voting for?
In the past, people relied on leadership for guidance—the prime ministers, the party leaders, the union head, the heads of church, school group leaders. But now, people feel emboldened to make their individual choices, often not realising that a yes vote on one issue directly contradicts a no vote on another. Did the Greeks really understand what they were doing when they rejected the bailout conditions and rejected austerity?
This has repercussions for the corporate leadership. Imagine if a publicly-listed corporation that had hitherto relied on the decisions of the CEO, with consensus of the senior management and support of the board, suddenly decided to put major decisions up for popular vote by shareholders and stakeholders? Decisions such as should we acquire company B or should we pay dividends this year despite the slowdown in growth, might mandate cataclysmic directions of the company by tiny a majority of 51%.
What we are realising about the age of the World Wide Web is the more information does not necessary generate better-informed choices.
So far the only recent referendum that has gone through without glitch is Ireland’s vote on gay marriage. Perhaps it was successful because the issue was a simple and difficult to complicate. Both sides made a concerted effort to argue their case in a civilised way without ugly acrimony and mendacity. But it might have been the sheer weight of the numbers: 62% vs. 38%.
Knowing which questions to throw out for a vote and which issues to decide among the senior management requires smart leadership in an age where the public (or the stakeholders and shareholders) are clamouring for increased transparency and say.
One day, AI will become a quintessential instrumental aid of the vote, and until then, don’t become the bad boys of Eton and Oxford—Cameron & Johnson—who called for a vote without thinking of what might happen afterwards. They are probably still wishing that they could click that ‘undo’ button.
BLOG By: Mina Tenison