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.

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