Monday, June 18, 2007

The wisdom of a billion.

In his essay, "Trial By Jury", Richard Dawkins writes :

Turning to courts of law, why are twelve jurors preferred to a single judge? Not because they are wiser, more knowledgeable or more practised in the art of reasoning. Certainly not. Twelve jurors are preferred only because they are more numerous. Twelve heads are better than one, because they represent twelve assessments of the evidence.

But, for this argument, the twelve assessments really have to be independent. And, of course, they are not. Twelve men and women locked up in a jury room are like a clutch of twelve gull chicks. Whether they actually imitate each other like chicks, they might. That is enough to invalidate the principle by which a jury might be preferred over a single judge.

Oddly enough the bizarre American system of televising trials opens up a real possibility of improvising the jury system, By the end of trials such as those of O.J.Simpson, literally thousands of people around the country would have attended to the evidence as assiduously as the official jury. A mass phone-in might produce a fairer verdict than a jury.

James Surowiecki said the same thing in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, where he presented evidence that a large group of people, under similar conditions, when presented with a situation that required judgement, had an uncanny ability to predict the right result or come as close as possible to the most appropriate consensus, than would have been possible by any single member of the group. The only condition is that there should be sufficient diversity of opinion to begin with.

Almost every news channel tries to tap into this ‘collective wisdom’, when they ask you to vote for the Indian idol or when they ask you to sms your views ( choice of a, b or c) on a specific question.

So, why not go a step further and use this method to decide on membership to the Lok Sabha or the state council? Simply ask the electorate to sit in the comfort of their drawing rooms on election day, listen to the presentations and sms their choice of candidate to represent their constituency? No more ballot boxes or even electronic machines. No more walking up to the booths and having to reckon with all those seedy characters who infest such places .No more instances of booth capture, proxy voting and spurious ballot paper.

Technology can safeguard us against malpractices and ensure confidentiality. E-identity cards with finger prints or passwords can be issued to each voter, and he or she will need to use this to cast his or her vote.

Post-elections, the same technique can be used to conduct referendums on all major policy decisions. The judgement of the crowd will prevail.

Obviously, this is too fanciful, simplistic and will have its own flaws, but I believe that any method will be an improvement over what we have today.

Update 19/06/07 : The presumption that every Indian voter will own a mobile phone and will have a TV set in his/her drawing room, betrays some insensitivity on my part and needs some moderation. Not every Indian will have a drawing room, but I am quite sure that every Indian will have a mobile phone and a TV set.

1 comment:

Raj said...

Sunshine, thanks for validating the point.