Salim Ismail: Our Democracy is Collapsing

New Models is a series of posts dedicated for looking for new models for organisations, specifically new models of governance and society.

At a recent interview in Denmark, Salim Ismail of Singularity University declared “our democracy is collapsing.” Why? Information abundance and short-term thinking.

Democracy is suffering from Information Overload

For Ismail, representative democracy was designed for an “information scarce” environment. In short, democracy is suffering from an information overload. In the age of abundant information, democracy both “slows us down” in the decision making process, yet also, has “devolved to nobody thinking of the long term.”

Social Media is corrupting our opinions?

Compounding this information overload is social media. Opinions can be influenced rapidly and also incorrectly. Ismail sees the Brexit situation in the UK as the result social media and fear mongering.

Beyond Brexit, Isamil sees “every major democracy is under stress today.” He looks to the United States, Brazil and India as additional examples.

We need new models: Singapore? AI Bots?

His solution? It varies from learning from Singapore to relying on AI agents.

a. A Managed Economy like Singapore

Ismail remarks that Singapore is “where you elect a councils to run the country, more like a CEO model.”

Singapore has often been labeled as “Singapore Inc,” but I personally haven’t heard of Singapore as being run by a council.  It is more like a vigorous meritocracy and technocracy with a heavy dose of Edward Barnays to guide the people.

b. Swiss Democracy & Informed Citizen

On the opposite end, Ismail also see Switzerland “where everybody votes on everything” and is founded on a culture of informed citizenship.

I would love to ask Ismail how he squares his views on Swiss direct democracy to how he sees the Brexit referendum (a direct democracy decision he says that was based by fear). How much of seeing “Switzerland direct democracy is good” and “Brexit is democracy gone bad” a contradiction?

c. Balancing Democracy & the Long Term: AI & Expiration Dates?

Ismail argues for a need to balance democracy with long-term thinking that countries like China follows. He looks at two possibilities

  1. Salim Ismail & the Collapse of Democracy
    Unfortunately, Ismail doesn’t elaborate further on this AI idea in the interview. It could mean AI agents that support the decision making process? I just asked him to expand on this thought.A potential hint: He goes on talk about how AI could aggregate opinions on the Internet (blogs, in his examples) and aggregate a position on privacy policies that could become law. Given the obvious shortfall, this example needs to be explained further – but it was only a brief four minute interview. In any case, it would be incredibly interesting to see how AI could be used to improve policymaking.
  1. Laws with Expiration DateIsmail sees another potential in requiring expiration dates on laws, which would “force us to rethink the environment” and keep updating government policy.The view of limiting laws with expiration dates goes back to at least Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “to every practical man that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.” Jefferson wanted to go so far as expecting the US Constitution to be rewritten every generate – and by popular revolt if necessary.


Here’s Salim Ismail’s interview by the IDA of Denmark.







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