Algorithm ensures fairer selection of citizens’ assemblies
Democracy in ancient Athens looked quite different from democracies today. Instead of elections, most offices — including those in the legislature, governing councils, and magistrates — were filled by citizen volunteers, selected by random lottery. These citizens’ assemblies drafted, debated, and passed laws; made major foreign policy decisions; and controlled military budgets.
Today, citizens’ assemblies are making a comeback. In 2019 and 2020, citizens’ assemblies in France and the UK convened to draft measures to address climate change. Citizens’ assemblies in Ireland have led to changes to the Irish constitution which legalized abortion and same-sex marriage.
One of the biggest challenges in organizing these assemblies — both in ancient times and today — is deciding who should serve. The assembly needs to be representative of the population as a whole. But selection should be random — ideally, with all volunteers having an equal chance of being chosen.
To balance those two goals, the ancient Athenians used a rudimentary machine called a kleroterion, which randomly selected panels of volunteers from different tribes. Now, a team of computer scientists has devised a 21st century solution.
Now, a team of computer scientists from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with a practitioner from the Sortition Foundation, have designed an assembly selection process that satisfies representation and fairness simultaneously.
This paper was published in Nature.
“Ideally, a citizens’ assembly acts as a microcosm of society,” said Ariel Procaccia, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at SEAS and co-author of the study. “Whether this goal is realized in practice, however, depends on exactly how assembly members are chosen.”
Original Article: Can AI make democracy fairer?