The final episode from The Spark Salon democracy and technology series, features Soushiant Zanganehpour, the founder of Swae, a decision-making platform combining anonymity, AI and collective intelligence. Soushiant’s talk explores how traditional democracy needs to evolve with our digital, exponential technologies and proposes a new model for 21st century governance.
Democracy and Technology Podcast- Episode 4
by The Spark Salon | Swae
About The Spark Salon
The Spark Salon is Tata Consultancy Service’s programme of events in the UK that showcase innovative and thought-provoking new perspectives on the role of technology in helping to create a sustainable world.
At these events, we have a number of speakers give a TED style talk on the Spark Salon’s theme. Now, through the Spark Salon podcast, you can hear these amazing ideas and discussions proposed by our expert speakers.
For the past ~3 years, I’ve grown evermore frustrated by the lack of voice or meaningful influence normal people seem to have in the big decisions institutions and organizations make that significantly impact our lives. Simply voting for candidates or filling out engagement surveys at work feels inconsequential, futile, and, well, insulting. These ‘participation’ options don’t seem to influence the dull, unoriginal, and incomplete solutions most leaders tend to develop in response to the uniquely complex business and social challenges of today’s world. They don’t help prevent abuse of power or keep leaders accountable to their promises. Instead, they provide us a false sense of agency. As consumers, we have so much influence over our life choices, but as employees or citizens, we have so little say in much more important decisions. So, why are these our only participation options?
Our modern day decision-making model is broken.
The root of this problem boils down to our organizational paradigm — how we make decisions and organize ourselves in society. Our modern day decision-making model is broken. It’s outdated, too centralized, too efficiency-obsessed (think factories and conveyor belts of the 19th century industrial era, when this decision-making model reigned supreme), too exclusionary; over-relying on hierarchies, representation, and delegated authority, andconfining stakeholders to strict parameters for participation based on status or function, when we live in a world where ideas, expertise, and genius are distributed and directly accessible through technologies and protocols.
As we move from crisis-to-crisis in our political systems — see first-hand the limitations of many democratic institutions to govern effectively and anticipate challenges — or witness the uninspiring, unethical, and poor decisions made by leaders in large incumbent companies about how best to navigate complexity, we see how unfit our decision-making model is in today’s world.
What We Believe
About 2 years ago, I began exploring alternative decision-making models from today’s status-quo, to see how we can “upgrade” decision-making in organizations (both companies and democratic institutions)— consequently upgrading governance. I attended Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program to learn more about the problem and build a solution.
During my research, first-hand customer discovery and experience at SU, I became convinced that we’re in the middle of an irreversible social and cultural transformation, accelerated by new technologies and unreasonable entrepreneurs. We are transitioning from one strong set of operating assumptions about how to manage society, to a new, upgraded set. The transition we are undergoing will redefine how we organize institutions, how we create new companies, who has a voice, what’s an acceptable social-contract. But the path is murky.
The combination of increased computing power, the rise of blockchain technology, demographic and cultural changes has made the idea of designing alternative organizational decision-making structures and governance models that are different from today’s status quo — models that are more participatory, more intelligent, less corruptible, less costly — a real possibility.
These are still the early days but the trajectory is clear.
What We’re Building
Inspired by the pace of change, last year, I started a company to re-image organizational decision-making and build the operating system for future organizations. Our first product isSwae, an intelligent decision-making platform combining anonymity, artificial intelligence, and collective intelligence, to help organizations unleash the creativity of their stakeholders and make better quality decisions. Using Swae, individuals within organizations create great proposals anonymously with support of AI, then improve the quality of those proposals with crowd input. Proposals are debated on their merits, collectively evolved, and voted on. The proposals that receive the highest engagement (positive or negative) automatically percolate upwards to a decision (by management or the collective).
By providing the right mix of technology and process, Swae helps organizations efficiently tap into the wisdom of their stakeholders without reinventing the entire organizational structure. Swae’s process circumvents the blockages associated with traditional hierarchical organizational structures (cognitive bias, disengagement, fear of lost status and internal politics suffocating the expression of new ideas, etc.), to provide a more direct, transparent, and efficient pathway for ideas to go from the bottom to access management support. This helps decision-makers gather a greater level of truthful input, arguments, and data points to improve products, services, strategy and business models, without creating a tremendous burden of added work for management.
Swae intends to upgrade decision-making first in companies, then communities, then cities.
We’re excited to announce our first flagship partnership and upcoming proof-of-concept with Etihad Aviation Group. Together, we plan to deploy Swae’s platform company-wide to help improve the inclusivity and quality of bottom-up ideas generated and the employee-led innovation process. Through the proof of concept, Etihad aims to leverage Swae’s platform, our methodology, and AI tools to help take employee ideas to the next level, to influence the broader strategic direction of the organization.
This partnership has been a work-in-progress for several months now. Our teams first met while participating in NYU Abu Dhabi’s StartADVenture Launchpad program in April 2018. Thanks to NYUAD’s stewardship, they brokered a handful of such opportunities to allow start-ups like us to explore different applications of our platform within operations of established companies.
Deployment and Potential Impact
Etihad Airways is undergoing a subtle, yet very exciting transformation. Having welcomed a new CEO, they are preparing to become more organizationally nimble, adept, customer-centric, and more technologically driven in order to insulate against the general challenging trends facing the global airline industry. Moments like this offer unique opportunities to introduce new ideas, processes, policies and infrastructure to help sustain a shift in the orientation and trajectory of the organization for long-term competitiveness, prosperity and future-compatibility. Our partnership comes at a pivotal time, one in which we’re excited to explore the different ways in which Swae can support Etihad Aviation Group’s growth and adaptation.
Though specific details about the proof of concept are still being finalised (and cannot yet disclosed), kick off is expected in early 2019. We wanted to share this news with our community and supporters, as you watch us grow and test Swae’s platform, technology and operational capabilities while deploying in an organization of 15,000+ people. For us, the volume and diversity of ideas and decisions generated by the pilot will help us improve our systems and processes, calibrate our tools, and have real world learning to apply to more public facing experiments and applications.
2019 is already shaping up to be a great year, with a few other pilots expected to deploy early in the year. One we are in discussions with is a Smart City looking to deploy Swae’s platform for a large participatory budgeting / citizen policy creation experiment. Watch this space as we share more news about this pilot and the other experiments in our pipeline soon.
We’re very excited to announce our first pilot with the AI Initiative, an initiative of The Future Society, in which Swae will conduct Sentiment Analysis on the content of the AI-Initiative’s crowdsourced global civic debate on the rise and governance of Artificial Intelligence.
Background on the Global Debate on AI Regulation
In September 2017, the Future Society and the AI-initiative, in partnership with the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, launched a global civic debate that invited members of the public to crowdsource thoughts and opinions about how artificial intelligence technologies across business, government, society should be governed to achieve a beneficial future for all.
Led over a seven-month period, The Future Society’s collective intelligence effort assembled over 2000 diverse and multi-lingual participants (citizens, practitioners, experts, and researchers working on AI, robotics, cyber, public policy, international relations and economics) through offline and online event held globally, who collectively shared over 3,300 contributions in five languages. The collection of opinions provides novel perspectives on the governance of AI and insights on how the AI revolution is playing out in different geographies, its consequences and how they need to be governed to capture the upsides, minimize the downsides and ensure that its benefits reach everyone. The availability of the platform in different languages was a conscious effort by The Future Society to design a truly inclusive conversation, attract the largest number of global voices, and shape a *global policy framework that aligned to our local cultural values.
The Debate’s Relevance to Swae
Although Swae’s primary platform is a distributed decision-making tool supported by AI, we are offering important sentiment analysis capabilities for administrators inside organizations and cities. We’re therefore leveraging this pilot opportunity to help build out our capabilities to improve our general offering and support our mission of making collective decision making an intelligent and efficient alternative to the status quo.
In this pilot, we will conduct data analysis and experiment with data science techniques and existing NLP/NLG APIs to see what kinds of insights we can derive from the collection of rich opinions and discussion threads. We hope the insights we can reveal help us visualize the commonalities in perspective from geographically dispersed regions, highlight unique differences and previously unrevealed solutions or suggestions on how to govern the exponential growth of AI to ensure it’s a net positive and prosperity-enabling force for all humanity.
In a later post, we will share some high level findings about the global sentiment expressed about the future growth and regulation of AI in our analysis.
Presentation of Findings at the European Parliament
The results of the debate, along with any meaningful insights we may uncover from our analysis during the pilot, will all be shared at the official launch of a report at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on September 26th.
For those interested in attending, the event offers some interesting interactive workshops with leaders in the Machine Learning field, immersive experiences with an artistic design installation, and the opportunity to take a “seat at the table” to shape global AI policy.
Swae is an AI-driven decision-making and governance platform that helps raise the quality and inclusivity of decisions within organizations, allowing people to participate directly in key strategy, budget, operational decisions and create solutions from the bottom up that can be institutionalized. By combining anonymity, artificial, and collective intelligence Swae helps organizations unleash the creativity of their stakeholders, discover new unrevealed ideas, and collectively build bottom-up solutions to strategy and resource allocation decisions, and improving overall decision quality without significant work for management.
About the The Future Society & AI-Initiative
The AI Initiative is an initiative of Harvard University’s The Future Society, a global non-profit think-and-do-tank dedicated to better understanding questions of impact and governance of emerging technologies. Created in 2015, The Future Society gathers students, researchers, alumni, faculty, business leaders, policy makers and experts from around the world ,through it’s expertise in Research, Convenings and Executive Education, to help shape the global policy framework for emerging technologies, including Artificial Intelligence.
The Imperative for Bottom-up Decision-Making Africa is at a crossroads. The continent is undergoing a period of unprecedented growth. Nearly 50% of the world’s 40 fastest-growing economies are in Africa. Transcontinental free trade is connecting Africa, strengthening the region and benefiting over 1 billion people. Half of Africa’s nations experienced changes in political leadership within the last three years. With enormous growth come equally enormous challenges.
Pilot and Partnership Announcement
Launching this month in South Africa at Africa Tech Week, Swae will be partnering with the Fastrack Institute on an open innovation challenge to crowdsource the best solutions for Africa’s most pressing challenges, directly from its citizens!
The goal of this pilot is to design and implement citizen-led ideas and solutions to the region’s greatest challenges.
Together with the Fastrack Institute, we are proud to announce this open innovation challenge, for all citizens of Africa, envisioning an Africa, made for and by the people.
Phases 1 & 2
In the first phase of this pilot citizens, partners and sponsors will use the Swae platform to identify and suggest possible solutions to key problem areas throughout the continent. Leveraging Swae, citizens will engage in idea creation, through our discovery methodology, AI augmentation and open deliberation methods, to design and collectively to contribute to a breadth of issue areas that concern them. In particular, citizens will be able to view, comment, and vote on other submissions raising their importance in the platform. At the end of this phase, the top ideas will be refined and improved through the collective deliberation process, and will proceed to the next phase for an innovation sprint guided by The Fastrack Institute. Any resident in the continent of Africa is encouraged and welcome to participate.
Goals for Swae — What We Hope To Learn We’re incredibly excited to be providing the digital tools to enable decision makers and citizens the opportunity to design solutions together. If successful, this pilot can lead to scaling other approaches to community driven and informed interventions and decisions in Sub-Saharan Africa. We believe this is a fundamental step in how the future of governance processes and decision-making should scale. On our side, this opportunity allows us to test key hypotheses, particularly around our ability to develop high-quality, decision-ready ideas for serious consideration/feasibility testing and implementation — through a combination of our methodology and digital features (anonymity, idea augmentation, commenting, voting). We’ll also be measuring key indicators on diversity of participants involved in a given idea and whether that leads to more fully formed and holistically representative solutions in addition testing our augmented intelligence features in a new context and geography. If you would like Swae to help your company, organization or community raise the inclusivity, quality, and intelligence of decisions, please get in touch directly here
About Swae Swae is an AI-driven decision-making and governance platform that helps raise the quality and inclusivity of decisions within organizations, allowing people to participate directly in key strategy, budget, operational decisions and create solutions from the bottom up that can be institutionalized. By combining anonymity, artificial, and collective intelligence Swae helps organizations unleash the creativity of their stakeholders, discover new unrevealed ideas, and collectively build bottom-up solutions to strategy and resource allocation decisions, and improving overall decision quality without significant work for management.
About FTI Fastrack Institute is a non-profit organization achieving social impact through injection of knowledge and technology to enable cities to adapt to and capitalize on rapid technological change alongside rapid urban population growth. They work together with member cities to find cutting edge, scalable solutions to grand urban challenge. They focus primarily on solving urban problems for cities and regions of one million or more citizens, although they do work with smaller cities and communities.
Their mission is to inspire, educate and empower cities and their citizens to find cutting edge, scalable ways to solve critical urban challenges 10X faster and cheaper than previously thought possible.
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