What A Weighted Vote System Would Actually Look Like
The year is 2050, and advancements in AI technology have enabled governments to gather and process extremely high fidelity data about their citizens, to help them make better laws. Due to the international convention on AI, signed by all OECD countries two years prior, any AI used by governments may only be connected to the internet in a read-only fashion, so that they don’t inadvertently destroy the human race.
In Australia, the Labor-Greens Coalition party is in power, however they are approaching an election and are concerned about how they are faring against the Liberal party in the polls. Liberal is proposing some hard-line anti-immigration policies against AI simulations of human brains, which they believe will threaten job security for working Australians. The LGC, knowing that the AI simulations can fill labor gaps particularly in rural Australia, and that any isolationist sentiments at this point are just fear-mongering, decide to use their newfound governmental AI to change voting laws, so that crazy right-wingers have less weighting in their votes than educated, reasonable people. Their plan is to use the AI to run profile checks against each Australian citizen, aggregating a set of non-partisan heuristics to determine how many points each person’s vote is worth. The chosen heuristics are things like ‘Educational Background’, ‘Compassion’, and ‘History of Community Contributions’. The Liberal party at first object, but knowing that the populace have so far been eager to make use of governmental AI whenever possible, they run their own simulations with their own AI, and come back to parliament to negotiate some more heuristics they want added to the algorithm, like ‘Experience In Running A Business’ and ‘Investment Experience’ to ensure that people more closely rooted in the private industry have representation. Both parties agree that IQ should also form a heuristic, though mentally disabled people get a free pass on that one because nobody wants to discriminate against the disabled.
The two sides agree on the final details and the bill gets through parliament. Each party thinks that with the chosen heuristics they will win the election: Liberal assumes most LGC voters are on the dole living in Melbourne’s northern suburbs on a diet of goon and darts, and the LGC assumes most liberal voters are uneducated rednecks in rural areas. The government assures the populace that the AI will not record any of the private information it uses to obtain its vote weightings, all it will spit out at the end will be a number for each citizen, ranging from 1 to 1000.
The AI finishes its algorithm, with the data being uploaded via an independent third-party committee to the myGov website where anybody can log in and see their weighting. The next day an army of rural Victorians march through the Melbourne CBD protesting against their unfairly assigned weightings. The Victorian Premier assures the populace that it was a bipartisan federal decision, which the states played no part in. Riots ensue.
Meanwhile on Gumtree (which in 2050 has support for auctioning items), highly educated business owners with a history of community contributions and vast investment portfolios offer to sell their vote to the highest bidder, knowing it to be worth dozens that of an uneducated rural voter. Bidders mostly have IP addresses from outside Australia. The CEO of Gumtree starts selling this data to anybody who would want to know which countries have the most interest in the outcome of the upcoming Australian election.
After a few CEOs make money from bidding wars, a particularly savvy businessman named Dave starts a new website called TugVote where a person can sign an end-user license agreement where they must vote for the party that wins the tug-of-war for their vote. A customer to the website advertises their vote weighting, with other users paying money to pull the vote in the direction of the party they want to win. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in these neck-to-neck tug of wars, trying to get the vote over the line for whichever party the paying user wants to win.
This proves to rake in far more money than is possible in a mere auction. The person who owns the vote gets 70% of the total money spent on their vote, with a 30% cut going to Dave. TugVote, like Gumtree, records the IP addresses of users making payment. Except Dave now also knows which party these IP addresses are voting for, making the data far more valuable to potential buyers. Dave goes to the Australian Government, who are hurriedly drafting new legislation to crack down on the vote blackmarket, and offers to sell them the data.
‘You picked the wrong guy to propose this deal to Dave’, responds Hank Davies, minister for Integrity and Anti-Corruption, head of ASIO. ‘I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and pretend I never saw you today.’
Dave is promptly kicked out of parliament, deciding to go directly to the Australian Defense Force instead. Dave once more uses his connections for a meeting, and ensures the ADF rep that his data would give intel on which countries are trying to manipulate the election, and where all of their agents are located. Coincidentally, overnight the ADF has been given an uncapped budget to assist in peacefully suppressing the riots that have enraptured the country’s main cities. So the rep tells Dave he’ll talk to his superior and see if they can negotiate a good price. The ADF comes back with an offer of fifty million dollars, but Dave isn’t satisfied. ‘Look I’ll settle for $50m if you can sweeten the deal for me’. Dave gives the rep a little more information, and hands him some documents to store in the desk of whichever colleague he likes the least in his workplace.
The deal is done and Dave catches a plane to China. He uses the money from the ADF to bribe his way into a meeting with one of a former Premier’s nephews’ second-cousins, Mr Wong. Despite the intrusive cameras lining the walls of the meeting room, Dave maintains his cool composure. ‘I know you’ve heard of TugVote, and I know you’re interested in spending some money to influence the Australian election. I’m offering you a 15% discount on each payment in the website, if you pay upfront $100 million.’ The deal is done, and Dave continues his journey to a few other countries where the concentration of IP addresses in TugVote are high.
Meanwhile in Australia, all interstate flights have been put on lockdown as the rioters storm Canberra, burning and pillaging everything in their path to the steps of parliament. The Prime Minister rushes up the stairs, escorted by armour-clad security guards, to the roof of parliament, where his helicopter awaits him, its rotors already reaching full speed. As the PM straps himself into his seat and sighs a breath of relief, he turns to his side and sees on the horizon a fleet of angry looking ADF fighter jets flying straight towards parliament. ‘We remembered to tell these guys not to use lethal force against the protestors right?’. The PM’s deputy juts his chin and tries to think back to the clauses in the Emergency Powers draft, but is interrupted by the sound of miniguns from the jets opening fire on the streets. The PM watches dozens of citizens thrown into the air with what appears to be god himself striking a giant match blazing through the road to parliament’s steps. The jets follow up with a cluster of small bombs before they pass parliament and begin looping back around to continue firing.
The helicopter ascends unscathed, the PM reaching for his phone to immediately begin a facebook livestream addressed to all Australians. He begins recording, ensuring that his soiled pants remain out of shot, saying ‘Australians. I have heard your calls for action, and today I will be passing legislation that will revert the voting system to the way it was. One Australia, One Vote, for all. I will also be stepping down as PM in the interests of retaining the integrity of the government’. On his facebook page, the PM realises thousands of commenters have posted videos of the shootings at parliament. ‘I really could have sworn we told them not to use lethal force’ the PM reiterates to his deputy.
Dave, still airborne, en route from China to Russia, gets a call. Dave answers with confidence: ‘Vlad, I’m looking forward to meeting you, how’s it going?’
‘This is Wong.’
Dave wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. Wong continues ‘Your PM has just reverted the new system, I want my money back’
‘That’s news to me’ replies Dave, looking out the window to check if his plane has yet left Chinese territory.
‘I want my money back’.
Dave pauses, frozen. He holds the phone at a distance while gulping, then speaks into the phone ‘Sorry Wong, I don’t speak Mandarin’. Dave promptly hangs up, picks up an uzi from under his chair, and swings around to fire over his shoulder at the Chinese security guard to the left of the cockpit’s entrance. ‘That was an Australian!’ exclaims the caucasian security guard standing aside his fallen colleague.
‘At this point I can’t take any chances’ Dave responds, before turning the gun on the remaining security guard and finishing off the clip. Dave walks through the cockpit entrance, gun in hand, demanding ‘Turn this plane around, we’re going back to Australia’. The cockpit is empty. An innocuous LED light centred in the dashboard flickers in tune with a voice that says ‘No worries, mate’. That’s right, AIs pilot planes now. I can’t even remember getting on this plane let alone what tech advances have happened on it. Dave sits dispassionately in the corner of the cockpit, wondering what his next move should be.
‘I suppose I should sell TugVote to someone in any other country that wants to implement a weighted vote system. Maybe I can pivot to some other system where instead of fighting for which party a person votes for, the users fight for which cuisine a celebrity has for dinner or something. There aren’t that many celebrities though, and fewer still who would actually use the platform. What if instead of a weighted vote system for electing parties, we had a political system where every single government decision was determined by an online monetary tug of war through TugVote, so people could indicate how much they cared about a policy by spending more of their money. But that would disproportionately hurt the poor, meaning issues like basic healthcare and wealth redistribution would become underrepresented. That could be offset by controlling for income, so that a person’s vote in the tug of war is weighted more if it constitutes a larger chunk of the user’s annual income. $10 from somebody on a $100k salary will only count for half as much as $10 from somebody on a $50k salary. But then influential high-income earners would use poorer people to vote by proxy to boost their weightings. If I’m on 100k and I pay somebody on 50k fifteen dollars to put down a ten dollar vote in the tug of war, that person will have made $5 and I will have saved $5 because to get the same weighting on my vote I’d need to pay $20 directly. But if a poor person cares more about getting $5 than having their say on an important federal policy, did they really care about the policy in the first place? Perhaps not, but nothing is stopping a hypothetical rich person from offering $15000 instead of $15 and the same maths applies. But if there are enough rich people doing this, wouldn’t they actually be inadvertently redistributing their wealth to the poor, given that it’s only poor people who rich people would be offering the money to? That may be enough to actually fix wealth inequality period. But wealth inequality is only one social problem that the poor may be interested in. The quality of public education, public healthcare, and the creation of new jobs, particularly in rural areas, may be left in the dust if enough of the poor buy into the proxy voting scheme. What do I do about Wong?’
Serendipitously, Wong sends through a text to Dave’s phone saying ‘Those cameras in the meeting room got a lot of data about you and your mannerisms. Would be a shame if your wife and kids welcomed the wrong husband/father into their home tonight’.
Son of a bitch is going to replicate me! The Chinese government had focused most of their nation’s AI research expenditure on high-resolution replication, used mostly for food and water, but also replicating on human tissue for military purposes.
Dave immediately calls his wife, ‘Cath, I’ve made an unwise business decision and I think it would be best if you take the kids to the beach house for a few weeks. I’ll rendezvous with you there. Keep a gun on you, and if you see me approach, the password is ‘ProxyVote’ and if I can’t get that right in two guesses, shoot me.’
‘Proxy vote? Am I saying that right?’
‘Yeah ProxyVote it’s a business idea, one that won’t put the family in danger I promise. Anyway just keep a gun on you!’
‘Okay honey see you soon’
Dave takes a sigh of relief. I really am a lucky man.
A long time passes as the plane journeys from China back to Australia, and eventually Dave’s snooze is interrupted by the AI pilot announcing that the plane is almost over the beach house.
‘Just eject me from here, I can spot the pool’
Dave is launched foot-first in pin-drop fashion from the underbelly of the cockpit, and he quickly reorients his body to steer himself toward the pool below. He overshoots somewhat, instead crashing through terracotta roof tiles into his next door neighbour’s house. His wrist seriously hurts and it will need medical attention at some point in this story. Dave gets up and rushes out of the house to cross into his own yard, only to be stopped in his tracks when he finds Cathy standing stationary behind the white picket fence lining their verandah, pointing a revolver squarely at Dave, with their child hiding behind her leg.
‘What’s the password?’ demands Cathy
‘Wrong, one more guess’
Good, this means she’s not a replica. ‘ProxyVote’
‘Wrong again, Dave’. Wait, what? Cathy fires the gun, and the bullet grazes Dave’s left shoulder. Dave shrieks in pain, though admittedly his wrist is still in far more pain than his wounded shoulder. He ducks behind cover in his neighbour’s house, to the sound of further shots passing overhead, and the sound of Cathy’s uncharacteristic hysterical laughter. Wait she IS a replica! What the fuck? Dave’s phone starts ringing, it’s a random number. Begging for a miracle, he answers. An artificially distorted voice says ‘The police are closing in on your house, if you do what I say I can get you to safety’.
‘Sorry buddy I’m at my beach house right now, you’re out of luck’
The caller sends a text link of a live seven news report. Dave begins watching, recognising the aerial view of his house in inner Sydney, and recognising the man out the front as… himself. Dave does a double-take, confirming that at the bottom right of the video there is a red dot labeled ‘LIVE’. In the peripheral, a large SWAT team (in 2050 Australia has SWAT) close in on the perimeter, and Dave watches from the news helicopter’s perspective his doppelgänger raise his hands as he realises his situation, only to be mercilessly gunned down as if by firing squad. ‘I guess Wong sent my replica to the house assuming my family would be there, which is, given the fact that my ‘family’ here are actually replicas, a correct assumption’.
The livestream continues with the SWAT officers securing the area around the lifeless corpse. One officer kneels down to point a scanner at the back of dead Dave’s neck, and rises again to face the news camera above, emphatically locking his arms into an X, and an overlay flashes over the video saying NOT A REPLICA, in a way reminiscent of the old TV show Deal or No Deal. Dave stares into the abyss for a moment, then looks at his open palms, which now appear strangely foreign to him.
I’m the replica?
Suddenly Replica-Cathy’s gunfire ceases, and as Dave peaks out over his cover to watch her assume a lifeless robotic standing pose. Dave’s replica child follows suit. From just outside Dave’s field of view, Wong walks into the scene.
‘You tried to fuck me’ begins Wong. ‘You tried to cheat me’.
‘If you wanted me to give you back the money, why didn’t you just replicate me and then extort my bank details from the replica?’
‘Because I didn’t just want you to give me my money back, I wanted you to see your wife and child die before your eyes’. Wong, without even aiming, fires two shots in the direction the verandah, followed by two thuds.
‘But they were just replicas?’
‘Replica family for a replica father?’
‘So what the fuck?’
Wong takes a step closer. ‘The real dave, as we speak, is coming home to his real wife and child now. He’ll be none the wiser about what happened to you. This is really just a game I wanted to play’. Anyway before I kill you, what are your bank details?’
‘Here I’ll just log into the app for you and you can do it all from in there’ Dave responds. He logs into the CommBank app, and before chucking the phone to Wong, he receives another text from the same unknown number: ‘When you said beach house did you mean your one in Manly?’. ‘Bingo’, Dave replies. No sooner than Dave sends the text does Wong get spear-tackled by what appears to be a plain-clothed civilian. Some more appear, displaying their ASIO badges and apprehending Wong, putting him in cuffs. One announces loudly ‘Mr Wong, you are hereby charged with conspiracy to incite lethal violence against civilians by the ADF’
From a parked car across the street, Dave spots Hank Davies, head of ASIO, inviting him into the car.
Dave hops in and the car starts driving. Hank begins, ‘I know you planted those documents in the ADF for an audit to find. Now the whole world is gonna know that Wong is responsible for the ADF’s use of lethal force against the protestors in Canberra. That is, unless I reveal the evidence that it was in fact you who plotted this whole thing from the start.’
Dave responds ‘Well I certainly didn’t plot to become a replica and have my real self gunned down by a SWAT team. Why did they come to kill me by the way? And why did you try to protect me?’
‘I wanted to protect you because so long as you’re alive, you can wire me the 50 million you got from Wong, and nobody needs to know you were a part of the story. As for the SWAT team, turns out your family called emergency services claiming a replica of you was coming to kill them. I didn’t find that out until after the fact’
‘That makes absolutely no sense because the Cathy that I talked to was happy to just go to the beach house, but I suppose I was talking to Replica Cath, and real Dave was talking to real Cath, so maybe their conversation went a little differently’
‘Either way’ Hank continues, passing Dave a post-it note with a bank account number on it ‘Transfer the money to here, and I’ll burn any evidence implicating you in any of this’. Dave immediately follows Hank’s orders in the app, showing him the result of the transfer.
‘What happens now?’ asks Dave.
‘Get in touch with your wife, see if she wants a replica for a husband given she no longer has a real one. And stay out of China, it’s gonna take a while for the dust to settle on this one; I don’t want to see any more attempts at corrupting government officials in any country’.
Dave is let out of the car at a train station. A large LED panel shows Seven News’ exceptionally prompt live coverage of Wong’s arrest, with the reporter stating
The Chinese Government has made it very clear that Wong acted alone and did not represent the interests of the party at large. His efforts to destabilise Australia’s political system by intersecting an ADF order to use non-lethal force against protestors in Canberra will generate strong tension between the two nations, but both countries’ leadership have vowed to cooperate in controlling the situation and ensuring no more lives are put in danger.
Dave catches the train and gets off near a hospital. Walking through the automatic doors, some nurses rush to his attention. ‘Sir your shoulder is injured you need to go directly to ER’. Dave responds ‘Actually my wrist is hurting way more, can we look into that first?’.
‘We certainly can’ responds one of the nurses. ‘We certainly can’.