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Could algorithms pick leaders for us instead?

It sounds like wishful thinking but data crunching is already being used to improve the process.

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Algorithms Pick Leaders:

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It’s D-Day, or the political equivalent thereof, as Americans head to the polling booths to pick a new leader. To paraphrase a meme that’s going around, in one corner is an incredibly crappy status quo and in the other is a dystopian future nightmare. Happy voting!

In a recent column for The National, I explored the question of whether it has to be this way. With algorithms already trading stocks, running traffic grids and deciding who gets loans, couldn’t we also let them pick our leaders for us?

The process could be something like online dating, where candidates fill out exhaustive profiles and questionnaires. The algorithms could judge those profiles for experience and truthfulness and calculate the odds of promises succeeding, arriving at a final score. The candidate with the best result gets to be president. Great, right?

Well, not so fast. Mark Brown, a professor at the department of government at California State University in Sacramento, points out the obvious problem with such a scenario.

Algorithms are programmed by people, after all, which means they’re still susceptible to bias. That fact means losers of such a robot-driven election would inevitably dispute the results.

“Such design decisions would be challenged by anyone who disagrees with the outcome, leading right back to the same political conflicts the algorithm was meant to avoid,” Brown says.

That’s not to say that algorithms have no place in an election. Indeed, they’re already being used in efforts to improve the process.

The Majlis Monitor, launched in 2014 by the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, attempts to quantify the performance of parliamentarians in Iran.

The Farsi-language platform keeps track of bills that elected officials have signed and supported, their speeches, media interviews and announcements on current issues.

It stops short of assigning politicians a grade or numerical value, but it’s a big step toward establishing accurate assessments of how they perform at their jobs.

“There are all sorts of ways that data could be leading us to better government,” says Peter Loewen, the director of the University of Toronto’s school of public policy and governance. “Inserting good data into all those decision points could arguably improve democracy.”

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