A few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders issued a request to his millions of supporters: What do you want to see in the Democratic Party Platform? This may seem like a simple question, but with so many possible priorities, it’s a challenging process to converge on a few key issues. In fact, Bernie’s website listed 24 potential issues for his followers to consider, asking them to vote for which issues they believe the most important to focus on.
How do you find consensus across millions of voters on dozens of issues?
Here at Unanimous AI, we use a technique inspired by Mother Nature – Swarm Intelligence. Based on the underlying mathematical processes used by schools of fish, flocks of birds, and swarms of bees, the process of Swarm Intelligence enables large groups with diverse opinions to quickly converge on a solution that optimizes their collective views, opinions, and insights. Does it work for humans too? Recent research shown shows human swarms reach decisions that not only more accurate than decisions formed by individuals, they’re also more moral.
So, what would happen if a Swarm of Sanders’ supporters worked together to select the most important issues to be incorporated in the Democratic Party Platform? To find out, researchers gathered a group of Sanders supporters and asked them to pare down Sanders’ list of potential platform issues and converge on the single most important one.
The replay below, shows one step in the process of paring down the long list of options. Each of the magnets you see below is one Sanders supporter involved in a virtual negotiation that uses Swarm Intelligence to find consensus in a matter of seconds. Researchers used a process of elimination, asking supporters considers the options in groupings, asking them to eliminate the least important of that group. Here is an example:
Here the Swarm makes the difficult decision to remove Medicare for single-payer healthcare from contention as the top priority among the items in Bernie’s list. Researchers repeated the process to narrow down the large field as shown below:
If there has been one persistent criticism of Sanders’ supporters throughout the campaign, it’s that their candidate has made promises of entitlements like free education and higher minimum wages. Some critics even say that Bernie’s supporters are merely responding to the lure “free stuff.” A Forbes headline sums up this position nicely, “Surprise: The Rich Will Pay for Most of the Free Stuff Sanders is Promising.” So, surely Sanders supporters would identify entitlements as the most important issue. Right?
Wrong. When researchers asked the Swarm, a very different answer emerged. As you can see if the replay below, when given the chance to choose between an entitlement programs – free college – and campaign finance reform, the Swarm was definitive in its conclusion that Campaign Finance Reform is the single most important issue to add to the Democratic Party Platform:
In this short experiment, swarming allowed researchers to uncover what Sanders supporters believe is the most important issue for the democrats to add to the party platform, and to do so in a matter of minutes, not days or weeks.
Not only that, but in capturing the sentiment of the Swarm, it is possible to refute one of the widely held misconceptions that Sanders’ supporters are just after “free stuff.” Because what you’re seeing there is not a vote or a poll or a survey, but a group of people working together as a real-time system that converges on the answer that maximizes the satisfaction of the group. And, in this instance, the Swarm believes that campaign finance reform trumps every other issue on the table.
Want to try swarming? A wide range of topics are explored daily at UNU.ai.
See you there.