As some of you will know, the little Baltic republic of Estonia is the world’s leading innovator of digital democracy. So today we talk with the country’s former CTO, Taavi Kotka, who many credit as the technological genius behind the construction of Estonian digital democracy.
So, as Taavi Kotka made unambiguously clear, we have two choices for engineering 21st century digital politics. It’s what he aptly called THE GREAT CHOICE. Either the centralized Chinese model controlled by an Orwellia actor like the Chinese state, communist party or leader. Or the decentralized Estonian model with its built-in checks and balances against Big Brother.
The choice is ours. Or, at least our governments. And it’s the choice that will determine the nature of democracy in the 21st century.
As Kotka explained, the Estonian model represents a new kind of social contract between the digital state and digital citizen in our age of big data. This social contract represents a digital kind of of transparency about accessing personal data. Yes, Kotka acknowledged, all our personal information will reside in some sort of giant database in the sky.
But, in the Estonian decentralized model, we will always be notified when a policeman or a tax officer or a politician looks at our data. And it’s this mutual transparency which distinguished the Estonian model from the unaccountable data dictatorship being constructed in China.
And then there is the third category of countries like the United States or Great Britain which are doing very little to create any kind of digital politics. What the hell are you still waiting for?” an incredulous Kotka asks about the US and UK – the two most notable laggards in any kind of digital innovation. Amen.
Perhaps there’s a fourth category too. Estonia and China represent kinds of bookends in the centralized and decentralized models of 21st century politics. But, as Kotka noted, some countries – like Austria or Singapore – are caught somewhere in between these two ideal types.
And he may be right to suggest that the smart city experiment in Singapore – with its highly effective technological reforms in education and healthcare – represents the best case of synthesizing the Chinese and Estonian models. Life is Good in Singapore, Kotka says. No, not perfect. But good.
What is clear is that what Taavi Kotka and his colleagues have engineered in Estonia is only the beginning of our collective 21st century digital political experiment. In Estonia’s digital democracy, he says, “we haven’t even started running AI”. And AI, he notes, changes everything because it enables what he calls a “future predictive model” for politics.
The most effective politicians of the future, he predicts, will use these predictive models to shape and execute their agenda. So Moneyball is coming to politics, he rightly predicts. And just as its revolutionized professionalized sports, it’s going to change everything about politics.