Saturday, 8 November 2014

My Peace Grand Challenge Competition Entry

I've had a number of requests for copies of my Peace Grand Challenge competition entry, so I've copied it below.  The competition was "to submit an essay describing your idea on the subject ‘Innovative solutions for world peace, 2014-2034.’"  It was evaluated on these criteria:

  • Impact (25%) – Ability to impact millions of people
  • Technology (25%) – Smart use of technology
  • Feasibility (25%) – Project feasibility (including sociological credibility)
  • Applicant (25%) – Applicant profile, achievements, and potential 
(Which should explain why I write a bit about myself)

The essay was written by adding more detail to a blog entry that I wrote last year:

A Self-improving, Transparent, Democratic, Meritocratic, International System

About Me

I have been writing software since I was eleven years old. When I was seventeen, I wrote a real time 3D graphics engine with texture mapping, in assembly language (only something that hardcore computer nerds do). Since then I have accumulated sixteen years of professional programming experience. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that my idea is based on software.

The Problem

In order to create world peace, one has to solve the problem of world conflict. These are some reasons for conflict:

  • People are divided into groups like religions and countries. Without being classified into a group it's more difficult to find a group to fight.
  • People have extreme ideas and are unwilling to be critical of their ideas and consider alternate points of view.
  • Desperation, caused by poverty. If one had everything one wanted there would be no reason to fight.
  • Lack of a systematic method to change what you care about, leading to ineffective petitions, striking, demonstrating, rioting and civil war.
  • Lack of transparency in governments, leading to corruption, lack of trust and anarchy.

Perhaps you can think of more reasons, but I'll leave that up to you to think about as you read my idea and ponder whether or not this idea (or any other idea) addresses the causes of conflict.

According to Wikipedia the countries of the world are governed as follows:

Type of regime
% of countries
% of world population
Full democracies
Flawed democracies
Hybrid regimes
Authoritarian regimes

One might think that the solution to world conflict is to get that 15% up to 100%. but while democracy sounds like a great idea, and generally is much better than a dictatorship, it has many flaws including:
The current archaic voting system.

  • Being based on archaic voting systems.
  • Only applies within a country.
  • The problem that the majority actually know far less about what they're voting for than the minority of experts.
  • Highly inefficient, when you think about the £31,000,000 that parties spend campaigning for an election.
  • Votes are not only cast by the extremely rare intellectual few who know the ins and outs of every party, but by a large group of people who are influenced by advertising.

I could carry on, but I'm sure you get the general idea.

A Potential Solution

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 
― R. Buckminster Fuller

My StackOverflow profile.
What annoys me is that we have really great democratic, meritocratic and transparent systems in the IT world, like StackExchange, but the way governments run countries seems to be a bit prehistoric.  I don't know much about politics, but I know a good system when I see one.

Let me start by telling you a bit about StackExchange and why it is awesome:

 On StackOverflow, their sub-site for asking programming questions, one can ask a programming question, and, if it is a well written question, based on their guidelines, one usually has the correct answer within minutes.  Amazingly, this is a free service.  I'm not quite sure if that explains just how incredible the system is, so let me try another way:  One can either spend hours or days trying to solve a complex programming problem, or type it into StackOverflow and have it answered in minutes!

So, how does the system work?

Everyone can earn points by asking questions, answering questions, doing reviews, improving formatting, etc.  One earns these points democratically, meaning that one earns points by other people looking at what one has done and awarding or deducting points.  Once one reaches a certain number of points, one is considered more trustworthy or knowledgeable and therefore more functions are enabled for that person.  The details are quite complex, but the system has obviously been shaped over many years into what it is today, a beautiful and elegant solution.

Imagine what a self-improving and transparent democratic, meritocratic system could be like...

It starts with a well defined end goal, perhaps along the lines of "Increase the level of human happiness throughout the world," in order to focus the users and help the system to evolve with a purpose.

Ideally the system would be universal, however, realistically it would require the ability to make changes in specific geographical areas where there may be a different need, or more users, or perhaps the system is used by a political party.

Perhaps you, as a user of the system, came up with the idea that it might be good for everyone to get benefits instead of just people who are not working, so you go to the website and type your proposal, "Give benefits to everyone, not just those who are unemployed."

The website gives you a list of similar suggestions, and noticing that your proposal is already on the system and is number 273 in the queue, with 834 votes, you click the vote button to increase the value of the proposal and write a comment explaining why it would mean so much to you.

Screen for suggesting a proposal in hypothetical democratic, meritocratic system.

The proposal now has 835 votes and with its new value it is bumped up to position 272 in the queue.  Within the next few weeks a further 7433 people vote for the proposal and it eventually reaches the number one place in the queue.  Your comment on the proposal has been noted by many people and voted up so that it is number five in the list of comments.

People who have earned the most points on the system vote for a group of experts on the subjects involved, including mathematicians and people who are highly clued up about benefits.  This group of experts each records a ten minute video explaining anything that they think is relevant, and then the videos are uploaded to the site and linked to the question.  The people with the most points (trusted) watch all the videos and then vote on whether or not to go ahead with the proposal.  Each vote includes a the voter's reason for voting for their choice.

70% of the voters decide that it is not a good idea to give everyone benefits, so the proposal is disapproved, but you are not happy.  You believe that the system is faulty and you should be one of the people with a large number of points, so you can be included in the final round of voting.  For this reason you need to increase your points to 200.  This takes a lot of work.

You do a logic test, which bumps up your points from 50 to 100.  Then you read all of the recommended books... some history, some critical thinking, some science, some psychology, etc.  One of them doesn't appeal to you, so you create a proposal that the book is changed.  Eventually you do all the tests on the books that you read and your points are bumped up to 150.  Unfortunately you don't quite get the points that you need, so you decide to try to become an expert on benefits.

You go to the expert section on the website and follow the strategy to become an expert.  Eventually you write an amazing article on benefits and are selected as an expert.  The next time the benefits proposal makes its way to the top of the list you are ready with your well researched video on how amazing the world would be if everyone had benefits.

Your video is watched by the people with the most points and 80% of them vote for everyone to have benefits and the new policy becomes reality.

Unfortunately the new policy doesn't work out as well has you'd hoped, but since there is a democratic way to change things, people propose an even better system and the better system is implemented next.

Of course this is a rough idea of a transparent, self-improving, democratic, meritocratic system.  You can probably find faults in this solution... yip, I can see some already, but this is just the start.  The real system should be thoroughly discussed and thought out and would become more complex as it matures and improves. The main point, however, of this system, is that it is self-improving and focused. What better way to find a solution than a system that improves itself and generates solutions?

The system could be used not only for international change, but also for smaller groups, like charities or researchers, trying to figure out the most efficient way to solve a problem.

But imagine if it was used internationally. Imagine if you could see a clear and well defined path that you could take to suggest any change, or become an expert on any matter so that your knowledge, experience and desire for change could make a difference.

Practical Aspects

How to build it

Building the system is the easy bit. A basic, working system, ready to be improved as the system starts working, could be built in a month by a good programmer.

How to make it grow

The system would require regular use by a group of people in order for its' usefulness to be seen and to attract users and grow. For this reason it could start as simply a way for a charity similar to GiveWell to decide the most effective way to spend donations. Perhaps it could be used by activist communities like Zero State and Humanity+ to collaborate internationally. It could be used to run a public company, although that could work against peace, if the goal is to make money, seeing as the most effective ways to make money are not necessarily the most moral.

As the system matures, the charity or activist community could, for example, use the system to figure out better ways to find users. It might want to have donations, and it might want to use some kind of international currency like bitcoins, or it might simply rely on volunteers to complete any tasks that come out of the system.

Imagine an international, virtual community, voting and discussing what to spend money on in an organized fashion in order to achieve their goals.

My dream is...
  • that the system could expand to become so large and mature, that the best ideas for peace leap out of it like popcorn
  • that petitions, striking, demonstrating, rioting and civil war become obsolete
  • that other, better systems emerge as a result
  • that eventually the entire world is part of a single system that works for everyone

Thank you for considering my “Innovative solution for world peace.”

I'd be glad to hear any thoughts you have on my idea.

Stephen Oberauer

More about me

Related links

GiveWell, a non-profit research organization that determines the most effective charities:
A slightly similar idea to mine, called LiquidFeedback, used by The Pirate Party:
Zero State, an example of a community who would probably like to collaborate on ideas like this:
A forum for posting & voting on campaign ideas:

Loomio, software for group decision making: (
Computer-network based democracy:$14

1. Courtesy of ProLife at stock.xchng
2. Courtesy of svilen001 at stock.xchng


If you like this idea and would like to see it become reality, all I would like you to do for now is to join one or more of the Democratic Intelligence groups:


Update: has been live for a while now, and needs your support.  The best way to make a difference is to use the site regularly.  Please register on the site and participate in order to get the ball rolling.  Here's how you can participate.

Questions & Answers

This is where I'll put questions that I've been asked about the idea, and my answers:

1.  "...would just need everyone to have computers in their home?"

Based on the exponential rate of internet growth, that's probably not going to take as long as most people think.  Nevertheless, if I were to imagine the system growing in stages, I would imagine that the first stage would be for the system to be accessible to whoever has access to the internet via whatever device, e.g. computer, smart phone, tablet, games console, smart tv, etc.  Others could go to their public library or school to gain access, which may be more convenient than getting to a voting station and standing in a queue for a couple of hours. Those who don't have access to such facilities, or aren't able to read would have to wait. In the next stage of the system, those using the system could vote for the needs of the underprivileged - firstly making sure that they have access to the things that they really need, e.g. food, water, shelter, education, and in the next stage they could vote for publicly accessible computers... whatever works to help achieve the goal of the system.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Is the Prevalence of Autism Increasing?

...perhaps, but let me start with my disclaimer:

While not apparent to everyone, it's quite clear to me that anyone who decides to post an opinion on-line should welcome rational criticism.  I consider my beliefs to simply be temporary until I can replace them with better beliefs.  Therefore, if you have read a number of books on critical thinking and, through applying what you have learned thereby, discover that you may have a better view on something I have written, feel free to inform me.  If, however, you haven't even read a single book on critical thinking, you may want to update the thinking software on your necktop computer to include all the amazing insights of the last few centuries first. :)

While having an intellectual discussion on the value of vaccines, I discovered some charts and information on the net that proposed that autism was on the increase.  Before I go any further, let me quickly assure you that the rumour of a link between vaccines and autism does not have a leg to stand on for a number of reasons, including that the experts believe that there is no link, the most notorious quacks (Mercola & co.) say there is a link, and even after vaccine manufacturers removed the scary ingredient, thiomersal, which the quacks believed was causing the autism (and the experts didn't), the quacks continue to spread these rumours.

So, onto the topic at hand:  If vaccines weren't causing autism to be more prevalent, what was?  Could it be that something else had changed over the last 25 years?  No, not possible, because nothing has changed at all.  Everything is exactly the same as it was 25 years ago... we still listen to records, have three television channels and phone people using a funny dialling device that requires sticking your finger in a hole and rotating it clockwise six times.

But seriously though, I recently discovered this study from the peer reviewed journal, Psychological Medicine, published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.  I would recommend taking a peek, not reading the entire thing, but just enough to get an idea of the kind of detail, thought and expertise went into the study.  I have to admit that I can't understand a lot of what they're saying, either because I've forgotten a lot of what I learned in a year of statistics lessons or because my classes were not advanced enough.

Anyway, the gist of the extensive study is this:  "...there was no clear evidence of a change in prevalence for autistic disorder or other ASDs between 1990 and 2010."

Also of interest is this:  "These results support research findings (Fombonne, 2008) that suggest that early childhood factors, for instance vaccinations, have had no observable effect on the occurrence of ASDs.  However, there is some evidence that in-utero stressors (such as maternal stress, obesity and pesticide exposure), birth complications and advanced parental age may be associated with higher risk of ASDs (Scott et al. 2013)."

Saturday, 9 August 2014

What if everything you read on the internet was true?

Browsing through my Facebook news feed is usually a boring experience: seeing my friends enjoying their holidays, learning the dull news that someone's pregnant or getting married, and finding out that my brother has eaten a pizza and it tasted good.

Luckily there are times when I come across some fascinating information that someone has shared, with bold captions and exclamation marks!!!, warning about the latest threat of killer budgies, which has been discovered through no research whatsoever.

My typical response is to do a quick Google, find the link to at the top of the search results, and share it so that they no longer have to worry about such things.  Unfortunately this is not usually (actually never) met with, "Thanks Stephen.  I was so worried about the deadly budgerigars that I locked myself in a cage for a week with a bowl of water and a slice of toast.  Your diligence in finding out that the information was baloney is the best thing that has ever happened to me."  Instead I tend to simply annoy people and make them dislike me.

So, in the interest of making the world a slightly more pleasant place, I've decided to give in and agree that everything one reads on the internet is true.

Here are a list of 10 simple patterns to look out for on the internet in order to find truth:

#1.  If it says "SHARE THIS WITH ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS!!!," or some variation thereof, please do!

Every single paranoid claim on the internet is true.  The world needs more paranoid people, and by sharing every single scary sounding claim, especially those that tell you to share them (you must obey), you can make the world a better place.

This is due to the following rule of thumb...

#2.  Extraordinary claims don't require proper evidence.

Consider the newspaper.  It's a useful piece of equipment, which can be used for covering the floor when you're painting, can be rolled up and used for playing duster hockey, or even for wrapping presents to give to children you don't like.  This marvellous piece of equipment doesn't contain anything that anyone needs to know, and therefore chances are that any desperately shareworthy piece of information that has a shred of evidence attached to it has neither been published in the newspaper nor been on the news and since no-one knows what you know,  everyone needs to know about it through you.

#3.  It contradicts what most experts say on the matter.

There is always only one side to a story.  It is the side that you happen to read first.  Don't ever look for an alternative angle, because it will be wrong.

The true side of the story also happens to be the one guy who made an amazing discovery that no-one else could replicate and is not what the majority of experts have to say.

#4.  No reference to a neutral, trustworthy source.

Many statements shared on Facebook consist simply of some text with or without a picture.  Regardless of whether or not it actually references a source, if it has some statistics included, just believe it.

If it does reference a source, ignore the source.  It doesn't matter whether the source says the same thing, or if the source is impartial.  You can be quite certain that one product is better than another simply because the company making it said so.

#5.  No information about the research.

Articles that talk about a study are always completely true.  Does the article tell you who did the study so you can tell if the study was likely to be biased?  Do you know how many subjects were studied?  Was the hypothesis published before the study?  Was information cherry picked from the study, or was the whole study revealed?  Were placebo's used?  Was it a double blind test?  What do all other, similar studies have to say?  What do other people say about the study?  Don't worry, because it doesn't matter... just believe!

#6.  Be especially certain when spotting keywords normally associated with truth:  Alternative, Truth, Natural, Spiritual, Free energy, Vibrations, Crystals, Healing.

Alternative - because alternative is often a way of saying "untested" or "not used by people who've studied this stuff."  Alternative things do not need to be tested, because they're true.

Truth - because scientific articles which simply state the facts, with no desire to impress anyone, are unlikely to use this word.  They are more likely to use words like probability, majority, unlikely, hypothesis and test.  Those words are boring.  "Truth" is the word you're looking for.

FREE BONUS NOTE:  Statements become truer when the word "fact" is combined with "true", e.g. "true fact."  They can become even truer when using bold, capital letters, e.g. "TRUE FACT OF UNDENIABLE TRUENESS" is more likely to be true than just "true."

Natural - because everything that is natural, including poo, is good for one and everything that is unnatural, like being inoculated against polio, is bad.

Spiritual - because everyone can agree as to what spiritual is.  It is also a true fact that everyone believes in the same 3000 deities, is not a member of any of the wrong religions, but is only a member of the one true religion.

Free energy - every kid with a basement and a voltmeter has built a free energy contraption.  The only reason why they don't use it to power the lights in their basement is because they haven't found a way to switch it on yet.

Healing - because real hospitals and all doctors, including specialists, surgeons, dentists and nurses, and even veterinarians, are part of a global money making conspiracy.

#7.  If it sounds sciency, it is science.

It has been discovered that even a computer can generate truth simply by stringing together a random sequence of clever sounding words, such as quantum, neural and transcendence.  If you cannot understand something it means that you are not smart enough to understand truth.

#8.  If it has a picture, it means the picture was taken by the same person that wrote the article.

The picture on the right was used to stir up hatred towards a group who were accused of having child brides.  Of course these days one can upload a picture to Google and check where else the picture is used, find out the origin of the picture and the real context.  In this case the picture was actually taken by one of the brides by herself (the one third from the front), who actually wrote the article too and now has 482 children of her own.

#9.  All conspiracies are true.

All governments (yes, even your one), regardless of which of the 192 countries you're from have conspired together to kill you, your people and themselves.  Yes, I know this means that they won't have anyone to govern, or pay taxes.  Regardless, since this fact agrees with #2 of this list, it is simply true.

#10.  Anyone who offers you money or other free stuff is your friend.

This is because it has been discovered that everyone is honest, especially large corporations, who don't care about profit, and Nigerian princes, who give out money willy nilly, just like the Trojans were always friends with the Greeks.

So now you know what to do:

Kindly share this with everyone you care about!!!  It is true, because I, the true sayer, say thus and 97.2% of all people agree thusly.  I also discovered, using a mixture of alternative, vibrating crystals and concurrent quantum methodologery, powered by my free energy device (a cow in a large hamster wheel), that your government is watching you to make sure that you do.

And most of all, remember that anyone who questions what you share is evil and out to get you.

1. Thumb print 1 courtesy of georgie c at
2. Unhappy Feet courtesy of jaylopez at
3. Shapes and Textures courtesy of frtzw906 at
4. Money in sock - euro courtesy of kris69 at