How data and simulations are changing politics

15.08.2018
Video

In the second part of his summer tour, GDI researcher Zhan Li takes a closer look at how data and simulation capabilities are shaping our understanding of possible futures of cities and civic power. For this purpose, Li visited conferences and spoke to a number of leading futurists.

Future-minded understanding always contains flaws as well as insights from present thinking. One example is the story of the Minnesota Experimental City (MXC) Minnesota Experimental City (MXC), which is the subject of the documentary film "The Experimental City" shown at this year's Brain Bar Festival. MXC is a city planned in the 1960s and 1970s that should have been built in the middle of the Minnesota desert. Futuristic, green, self-sustaining and with a computer in every house – that was the vision. The Minnesota Experimental City idea was the brainchild of the futurist Athelstan Spilhaus, who managed to attract sufficient political consensus for a planning authority to be funded. However, by 1973 the vision of the MXC had to be abandoned. This was due to the first oil crisis and the subsequent financial crisis. The project remained an utopia. The MXC's planning was too much based on an idealized top-down policy and new technologies. Today, civic futures utopianism still champions the potential of technologies but the new capabilities imagined are often bottom-up or participatory. But such hopes rooted in more granular sensing and understanding and/or democratic empowerment also have flaws. This is shown, for example, by the research of Jeremy Heimans, who supports Social Movements with his company Purpose and deals with social dynamics. He talked about his findings at this year's FutureFest in London:

The two thought leaders Patrick Atwater and Francis Tseng. know what these civic data and simulations mean for our visions of the future. Their research helps to make the debate on this issue more comprehensible. Patrick Atwater is a scientist and innovation specialist. He is a member of the Bay Area Refactorings / Ribbonfarm-Community and founder of the non-profit organisation Advanced Research in Government Operations (ARGO). The purpose of his organisation is to make the potential of civic data more comprehensible to city authorities and political decision-makers, but also to citizens. For example, Atwater has pioneered the California Data Collaborative in the field of water supply. He spoke about his work in an interview with Zhan Li:

As a simulation consultant Francis Tseng creates economic and infrastructure simulations to support politics, but also as intellectual and artistic thought experiments, for example with Humans of Simulated New York. Tseng also caused a stir with his online game «The Founder», in which the booming Silicon Valley start-ups are taken for a ride. More about his ideas and simulations can be found in this video interview:

Zhan Li is an Associate Senior Researcher at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute. His main research topics include the future of globalisation, thought leadership and scenario planning.