The Future Democracies Laboratory is a research space dedicated to the investigation of methodologies and technologies for collective decision-making. Directed by experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, in collaboration with San José State University students and CADRE faculty Rhonda Holberton and Steve Durie, the transdisciplinary laboratory hosts an open-source software platform for rapidly modeling and testing democratic systems.
The research platform is based on the Federal government of the United States, emulating the decision-making logic by which representatives are selected and legislation is processed. All parameters are adjustable, as is the governing structure. The system is also capable of testing alternative models with actual and hypothetical legislation. For the testing phase, elected officials are simulated with random number generators, where the probabilities of voting outcomes can be set according to the political status quo or anticipated demographics. The legislative emulator and source code will soon be freely accessible on the Future Democracies Laboratory website.
In addition to the legislative emulator, the Future Democracies Laboratory maintains a versatile experimental suite for researching and developing alternative voting metrics. Experimental polling modules allow researchers to study decision-making inputs ranging from social media activity to physiological phenomena. Additional units monitor hormonal stress of other species, including animals and plants, allowing researchers to study ways in which nature might be enfranchised.
The Future Democracy Laboratory’s research program is augmented by public outreach. Alternative decision-making models provide a basis for discussion and debate, as does the operating system itself. (Do weighted random number generators better represent the public interest than flesh-and-blood politicians? Might the emulator become the government?) Through a unique combination of speculation and provocation, researchers and the public at large are actively engaged in the democratic process of deciding the future of democracy.