Thursday, 21 September 2017

A new, global fascism, based on mass surveillance is on the rise

By Dirk Helbing
Last weekend, I spoke to business leaders at the Petersberger Dialogue in the Villa Hammerschmidt. I warned that a new, global fascism, based on mass surveillance, appears to be on the rise.

The German talk can be viewed here
A similar, English video can be found here

Recently, an increasing number of experts and intellectuals have warned of an emerging technological totalitarianism, enabled by what some people call “surveillance capitalism.” 
A recent, much discussed contribution in Scientific American raised the question “Will democracy survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence”, pointed to the dangers of new kinds of behavioural manipulation. Even Cass Sunstein, one of the fathers of “Nudging”, has recently issued grave words of warning.

Today, secret services and Big Data companies possess much more data about us than were needed to run totalitarian states in the past. It is unlikely that such power will not be misused at some point in time. 
Moreover, it becomes increasingly evident that all the features of fascism have been implemented digitally or are currently being implemented. They could be used on a society-wide scale at any time. 
This includes:
  • mass surveillance, 
  • unethical experiments with humans,  
  • social engineering,  
  • forced conformity (“Gleichschaltung”),
  •  propaganda and censorship,  
  • “benevolent” dictatorship,
  •  (predictive) policing,  
  • different valuation of people,  
  • relativity of human rights,  
  • and, it seems, even euthanasia for the expected times of crisis in our unsustainable world.
The signs are clear. We are faced with the emergence of a new kind of totalitarianism of global dimensions that must be stopped immediately. “An emergency operation is inevitable, if we want to save democracy, freedom, and human dignity,” I warned. “Arguments such as terrorism, cyber threats and climate change have been used to undermine our privacy, our rights, and our democracy.”

The emergence of mass surveillance after 9/11, enabled by the Patriot Act and other laws, has led to the incremental erosion of liberties and human rights. Since the Snowden revelations, we know that there is mass surveillance of billions of people around the world. But most of us still have no idea how pervasive it is, and how it may influence their lives in future. 
Billions of dollars have been spent on mass surveillance tools of secret services to hack our computers, smartphones, smart TVs and smart cars. The estimated amount of data collected about us every day ranges from millions of numbers to Gigabytes of data. As a result, we have ended up with the digital tools for a data-driven, AI-based so-called “benevolent” dictatorship, where big businesses and the state determine “what is best for us.” Moreover, we have seen that democracies in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and elsewhere have already undergone transformations towards more autocratic regimes.

Citizens are being targeted, their data collected and consolidated. This is used to create a near complete profile of each person, their nature, habits and preferences. Each profile can contain thousands of specifiers. These digital doubles can be used to make thousands of computer experiments with our virtual self to find out how our thinking and behaviour can be manipulated.

More specifically, in today’s attention economy, our personal data is being applied to customize information such that it will influence our attention, emotions, opinions, decisions, and behaviours – often subconsciously – by a technique called big nudging or neuro-marketing. This ranges from steering our consumption behaviour to manipulating voting behaviour in elections.

In the wrong hands, the misuse of surveillance-based personal data will have catastrophic consequences for us and for society. In an explicitly or implicitly totalitarian state, this kind of information could be used to predict and identify those people who don’t agree with certain government policies and sanction them even before they can exercise their democratic rights.

The British secret service, for example, runs a program called Karma Police, which shows where our societies are heading. This Citizen Score, which is currently also tested in China, may be used to run an entirely new kind of autocratic society, or even police state. According to plans, the Citizen Score would determine the level of access to facilities, products and services. We would be scored or penalised according to our behaviours. Reading critical news or having the “wrong” kinds of social ties, for example, would get you minus points.

To counter this danger of a digital totalitarian state, I strongly suggest that we should:

  • ensure a democratic framework of use for powerful cyberinfrastructures, 
  • ensure scientific use by interdisciplinary teams, considering multiple perspectives,  
  • ensure ethical use considering human rights and human dignity,  
  • ensure transparency,  
  • ensure cyber-security (by decentralization etc.),
  •  prevent misuse (by effective laws/remedies and in-built self-destruction mechanisms in case of serious misuse, malfunction, or political power grabs),  
  • ensure informational self-determination (e.g. with a Personal Data Store),  
  • ensure informational self-determination by giving citizens the right to opt-out,  
  • turn war rooms into peace rooms, as described in a recent proposal by myself and Peter Seele.
The purpose of these video message is to create and spread public awareness of the insidious extent that individual personal data is being used today.

The door is wide open for global fascism to take hold, unless we take action now.

I hope that you will pay attention to these well-founded concerns regarding the rise of a technological totalitarianism, potentially on a global scale. My presentation offers much evidence. 
If this is a topic of interest that you would like to investigate further, you are kindly invited to contact me at
An alternative vision of a better, participatory, digital future that everyone can benefit from, is offered here: A Digital World to Thrive in and here: and here:
Thank you for reading.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

"Switzerland may be the only country to stay democratic"

These days, political scientist Parag Khanna doesn’t get tired to advertise “technocracy” as the best form of government.[1] He is not the only one. Internet pioneers in the Silicon Valley and elsewhere have often declared democracy as “outdated technology”.[2] Peter Thiel proclaims a “deadly race between politics and technology”.[3] And Google’s Larry Page complained that “[t]here’s many, many exciting and important things you could do you just can’t do because they are illegal”.[4] This shows a concerning disrespect of our laws.

Politics has promoted such thinking as well. In the wake of 9/11 and the Patriot Act, social engineers such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair have created a surveillance society, where a state of emergency was always around the corner, seemingly justifying the restriction of human rights and liberties step by step. Since then, democracies have undergone worrying transformations towards more autocratic regimes in Hungary, Poland, and Turkey. In the USA, UK and France, a transition is on the way as well. Last but not least, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Germany have also started to tumble. After one of my talks, someone with insider knowledge even told me: “Switzerland may be the only country to stay democratic.” He had concrete reasons to be concerned. And in Switzerland too, some have suggested the Chinese system would be more attractive…

Overloaded and tired by the flood of revelations, many people have not realized that we have ended up with technologies and laws, which parallel those described in George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. For example, just a few days ago, a new mass surveillance law (the large-scale use of “Staatstrojaner” federal hacking software) has passed the German Bundestag with a trick.[5] Little by little, we have ended up with the digital tools for a data-driven, AI-based so-called “benevolent dictatorship”.[6] This technocratic state will be totalitarian for sure, but will it also be “benevolent”? How may it look like, according to the evidence so far?

Big Brother: Since the Snowden revelations,[7] we know that there is mass surveillance of billions of people around the world, but most of us still have no idea, how pervasive it is. For example, all of our clicks in the Internet are reported by cookies, and there are a lot more digital traces of our everyday activities, which are also recorded. In Great Britain, more than 40 government institutions have access to the click history, even if it was regularly deleted.[8] Recently, Wikileaks “Vault 7” revealed that the CIA – just one of more than 15 secret services in the USA – had spent many billion dollars on mass surveillance tools to hack most kinds of computers, smartphones, smart TVs and smart cars – and that it had lost control over them, i.e. dual use of hacking tools by others was now a serious problem.[9]

Surveillance Capitalism:[10] It has become known that all citizens are being targeted to create personal profiles of them. This profiling covers thousands of specifiers per person (including name, birth day, age, income, address, religious denomination, sexual preferences and personal tastes, as well as health-related data, which is being sold to other companies). You have probably no idea of how much data has been secretly collected about you by corporations (so-called “Big Others”), and what is being done with it. The data give a much more detailed picture than the files that secret services used to run totalitarian systems in the past. You would be surprised to learn what companies such as Google, Facebook, Recorded Future, Acxiom, Palantir, and others know about you – or may infer about you from your personal data. Just have a look at your Crystal Knows profile to get a first idea.[11]

Big Nudging:[12] In today’s “attention economy”,[13] our personal data is being used to personalize information such that it will influence our attention, emotions, opinions, decisions, and behaviors – often in a subconscious way. This ranges from steering our consumption behavior with so-called “Neuro-Marketing” methods[14] up to manipulating our voting behavior during elections, as it happened during the Brexit vote and US election in 2016.[15] When combined with Social Bots – armies of robotic bloggers – very effective propaganda tools result. As the debate about Fake News and the post-fact society shows, many people are falling prey to these new technologies, some of which can even edit Web contents[16] (i.e. manipulate history). Populism, polarization, and fragmentation of societies have spread and threaten social peace. However, the censorship laws and “ministries of truth” to fight the problem are probably even a greater danger to democracies.

World (or War) Simulator: The personal data collected about each of us is being fed into a machine learning algorithm that learns how we behave. It produces a “digital double” – something like a personal avatar. These digital doubles are then used, on the one hand, for global “war games” – massive computer simulations such as Sentient World,[17] which try to predict our future. On the other hand, these digital doubles can also be used to test how we would respond to certain information stimuli. This is of interest for the next generation of “predictive policing”,[18] which would work pretty much like “Minority Report”. For example, it would be possible to find out beforehand, who is likely to protest against a shutdown of the freedom of press, or of democracy altogether.

Citizen Score: All the data collected about you are boiled down to a single number, the Citizen Score, representing your value from the point of view of those in power. This system will be a future governance tool in China, where it is currently being tested.[19] However, there is a similar system called “Karma Police” in Great Britain,[20] and most likely everywhere else. The system gives plus or minus points for everything you do, for the friends you have, the links you click on the Internet, the movies you watch, and the music you hear. The overall score will then decide about interest rates for loans, the job you may get, travel visa to other countries, and (conditions of) access to products and services.

Cashless society:[21] Once people would have a unique identity chip,[22] the Citizen Score could also be used as basis of a cashless society. In particular during future resource shortages, the Citizen Score could decide about the access to resources such as long-distance travel, medicine or meat. While all of this will be claimed to comply with principles of fairness and justice, in the future the Citizen Score might decide about life or death. But even if resources were sufficient for everyone – the competition for high Citizen Scores and good services would turn many creative individuals into submissive subjects.

“Benevolent dictatorship”: This comprises all of the above elements. The World Simulator would be used to come up with a grand plan for the world, which would imply specific roles for every individual. These would then be suggested to us through our smartphones or similar devices by means of personalized information (“Big Nudging”). If we would execute the suggested actions, this would earn us plus points, otherwise we would be punished by minus points. The ideological justification for such a system is that a “superintelligent” AI system would know better what is good for us, and therefore impose it on us (this is sometimes called the “Big Mother” society). In other words, people – currently free decision-makers – would eventually become something like an “output device” of a digital command economy. Freedom and self-determination, human rights and democracy would be gone.

Technological and Legal Assessment

Some technology gurus have said that our current system has created “wealth, health and happiness for billions of people … but now we want to try something new”.[23] Unfortunately, this new solution has not been properly tested. One would think that it would be the right approach to start with the reorganization of a company, then with that of a city (e.g. San Francisco), then with the reorganization of a state (such as California), subsequently of a country (e.g. USA), and then of a continent (e.g. America), before one rolls out the system in the entire world. So far, however, no “smart city” has made it into the top 10 hit parade of most livable cities, and it has recently been concluded that the technocratic Smart Cities approaches have largely failed.[24] In other words, there is no proof that anyone has managed yet to invent anything that comes close to a digital paradise on Earth. On the contrary, we have recently seen problems such as hate speech, fake news, and cybercrime abound, producing much harm to our societies.

Moreover, the most fundamental problem is unsolved, namely how to determine the right goal function.[25] Should it be the gross domestic product or sustainability, power or peace, happiness or life expectancy, or something else? If we chose power, for example, the AI system would learn to make us addicted to information and dependent on it.[26] On the one hand, therefore, Apple boss Tim Cook distanced himself from manipulating people with personalized information.[27] Elon Musk warned of superintelligent systems as “our greatest existential threat”, potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons.[28] Consequently, he spent a billion dollars to launch the OpenAI project to ensure AI will be “an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as possible.”[29]

On the other hand, the algorithmic personalization approaches by Google and others were blamed to discriminate women[30] and people of color.[31] Facebook came under pressure, as its platform seemed to contribute to the spread of extremism,[32] and Microsoft had to take down their chatbot “Tay” from the Web, as it started to produce Nazi propaganda.[33] Big Nudging has been heavily criticized in connection with the Brexit and US election campaigns.[34] The Citizen Score was condemned by The Economist and other newspapers for its totalitarian nature.[35] An ethics committee established by the German government decided that AI systems such as autonomous cars were not allowed to take life-and-death decisions, which would advantage one kind of people over another one.[36] Moreover, the US Supreme Court has declared that hate speech does not justify censorship.[37] And the United Nations Human Rights Convention demands that our protect our privacy be protected.[38] Last but not least, the European Court of Justice decided that mass data retention (Vorratsdatenspeicherung) without sufficient reasons is illegal.[39] So, the situation is clear: all of the above developments should not happen – and there is no evidence that they would create a better society. So, why is it still happening then?

The Sustainability Agenda – A Totalitarian Agenda Wrapped in Nice Words?

In the year 2015, some important decisions were taken about the future of the world. Opened by Pope Francis on September 25, the United Nations decided to pursue very ambitious Global Sustainability Goals with its Agenda 2030.[40] Strong institutions would be built to make the world sustainable by 2030, within just 15 years! On September 25, there were also a number of other notable events: Switzerland decided about a new surveillance law (Nachrichtendienstgesetz).[41] The Intercept reported about the Karma Police program,[42] and Kai Schlieter’s book “Die Herrschaftsformel” [The formula to rule the world] appeared with a delay.[43]

The Paris Climate Deal[44] followed up the Agenda 2030 and the Agenda 21. It decided concrete actions. Carbon dioxide emissions, for example, will have to be reduced by 40 percent at least. This shall be achieved by carbon trading,[45] which will create a one trillion dollar market, to be paid by the consumers. The aim to charge everyone in a fair way, may serve as an excuse for mass surveillance. One could say this requires detailed data about who is travelling how much and in what ways. Who is consuming how much, and what are the Carbon Dioxide emissions generated by these products? Moreover, carbon trading will probably compensate oil and gas companies for their expected losses, even though they have driven the planet to the edge and also suppressed alternative energy technologies. All of this is obviously neither moral nor legitimate – and that is probably the reason why the public has not be informed about the detailed plans in a transparent way, as it should be.

The Paris Climate Deal was made under the impression of the terror attack on Friday, November 13, 2015,[46] which initiated martial law and restricted constitutional rights – until today. For example, public demonstrations can now be forbidden, and private homes can be searched by police without any evidence of wrongdoing. Such measures undermining democracy have been seen also in many other countries such as Great Britain or Germany.

All of these developments become understandable if you read the “Limit to Growth” study commissioned by the Club of Rome[47] or the Global 2000 report[48] commissioned by US President Jimmy Carter, their updates, and follow-up studies. These reports try to project the future of the Earth by means of computer simulations. The shocking result of these studies was that, given the resource constraints of our planet, an economic and population collapse would be unavoidable (if we do not change our financial and socio-economic system[49] in a way that promotes a circular and sharing economy[50] – this would be the right solution!).

Source: How Many Earths? (September 27, 2015)

Today’s conventional view is that the world is overpopulated and overusing its renewable resources by at least 40 percent (see graphic above). As a consequence, about one third of the world’s population would die of an unnatural death in this century (see graphic below). This would be more people than currently live in the USA, Europe, Russia and China together.

Source: Chart Sources: Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. and Behrens III, W.W. (1972) (Linda Eckstein)

From this perspective, it appears logical that governments would prepare to ration scarce resources and distribute them fairly, according to personal merit, as reflected by the Citizen Score. It also becomes understandable that preparations were taken to suppress civil unrest, ranging from mass surveillance to armed police forces. Of course, there would also be preparations for times, when resources would not suffice anymore for everyone. Therefore, the question was raised: could AI systems be used to take decisions over life and death[51] – something one could probably call digital “judgment day”.[52] Now, you probably start to understand Elon Musk’s concerns about superintelligent systems. I also think that our societies need to take a completely different path to sustainability – based on a new financial, money and economic system. I will describe this in forth-coming contributions. 

[1] Die beste Regierungsform ist die direkte Technokratie, Tagesanzeiger (Jun 9, 2017), see,

[2] „Sie [die Demokratie] hat Reichtum, Gesundheit und Glück für Milliarden Menschen auf der ganzen Welt gebracht. Aber jetzt wollen wir etwas Neues ausprobieren und dazu haben wir hier keine Chance.“ See,

[3] Peter Thiel is trying to save the world: The apocalyptic theory behind his actions, Business Insider (December 8, 2016), see

[4] Google CEO Larry Page Wants A Totally Separate World Where Tech Companies Can Conduct Experiments On People, Business Insider (May 16, 2013), see

[5] Überwachung: Koalition macht Staatstrojaner zum polizeilichen Alltagswerkzeug (Heise Online, June 20, 2017)

[6] D. Helbing, Dictatorship 4.0: How the digital revolution threatens our freedom - and what our alternatives are, see; The Dream to Control the World – and Why It Is Failing, see

[7] for an overview see

[8] Revealed: The 48 organisations that can see your entire online browsing history, even if you delete it, Mail Online (Nov 25, 2016). Retrieved from ; Browsers nix add-on after Web of Trust is caught selling users’ browsing histories, The Register (Nov 7, 2016). Retrieved from ; Apple iCloud Hoards 'Deleted' Browser History Going Back More Than A Year, Forbes (Feb 9, 2017). Retrieved from

[9] see and for details

[10] S. Zuboff, Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization, Journal of Information Technology 30, 75-89 (2015).

[11] see

[12] see the corresponding information box in

[13] T.H. Davenport and J.C. Beck, Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business (Harvard Business Review, 2002).

[14] H.M. Sola and M. Econ. Neuromarketing Armoury (Createspace, 2017), see; L. Zurawicki, Neuromarketing: Exploring the Brain of the Consumer (Springer, 2016).

[15] The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine,; also watch this video of Alexander Nix talking about Psychographics:

[16] Nothing is real: How German scientists control Putin's face,;; Adobe VoCo ‘Photoshop for voice’ causes concern,;

[17] Sentient World: War games on the grandest scale. The Register (June 23, 2007) see; see also and

[18] W.L. Perry et al., Predictive Policing: The Role of Crime Forecasting in Law Enforcement Operations (RAND Corporation, 2013); see also

[19] China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are A Warning For Americans,

[20] Karma Police: GCHQ spooks spied on every web user ever, The Register (Sep. 25, 2015),

[21] Cashless society getting closer, survey finds, see

[22] Human Microchipping: An Unbiased Look at the Pros and Cons,

[23] R. Hencken, in: Mikrogesellschaften. Hat die Demokratie ausgedient? (Capriccio, 2014). Video, veröffentlicht am 15.5.2014. Autor: J. Gaertner. München: Bayerischer Rundfunk.

[24] Disrupting cities through technology, Wilton Park (March 17-19, 2016), see

[25] D. Helbing and E. Pournaras, Build Digital Democracy, Nature 527, 33-34 (2015).

[26] Smartphone Addiction, Psychology Today (Jul 25, 2013); see also and





[31]; see also for the more general problem

[32] Beihilfe zur Volksverhetzung bei Facebook: Staatsanwaltschaft München ermittelt gegen Mark Zuckerberg, Der Tagesspiegel (Nov. 4, 2016)

[33] Microsoft terminates its Tay AI chatbot after she turns into a Nazi. Ars Technica (March 24, 2016)


[35] Big Data, meet Big Brother: China invents the digital totalitarian state. The Economist (Dec 17, 2016) see

[36] Ethikkommission warnt vor Totalüberwachung des Menschen, Die ZEIT (June 20, 2017)

[37] Supreme Court unanimously reaffirms: There is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment,

[38] Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

[39] Europäischer Gerichtshof: It's the end of Vorratsdatenspeicherung as we know it, Die ZEIT (Dec. 21, 2016)




[43] K. Schlieter, Die Herrschaftsformel: Wie Künstliche Intelligenz uns berechnet, steuert, und unser Leben verändert (Westend, 2015).

[44] Paris Agreement,

[45] Carbon Trading: The World’s Next Biggest Market,; The EU Emissions Trading System,

[46] November 13 Paris attacks,

[47] The Limits to Growth,, see also the 30-year update,

[48] Editions of the Global 2000 Report to the [US] President, see

[49] D. Helbing, Why we need democracy 2.0 and capitalism 2.0 to survive, published in Jusletter IT,

[50] City Olympics, a decentralized, participatory, socio-ecological finance system (finance 4.0+), democratic capitalism and digital democracy would be solutions to make the world sustainable by 2030 in a democratic way, see and

[51] Een computermodel voor het ondersteunen van euthanasiebeslissingen,

[52] In this connection, it is interesting to have another look at the Terminator science fiction movies, which – among the existence of a Skynet AI system – seem to hint at a coming “judgment day”,, Note that Cyberdyne and Genisys actually exist. See also the news about the German TV movie “Terror”, after which a telephone vote was held to decide it was ok to kill people in order to save the lives of (more) others. It’s cynical that this might imply their own death sentence in the future.

Monday, 31 July 2017

To the Elites of the World

Faced with climate change, financial, economic and spending crisis, mass migration, terrorism, wars and cyber threats, it appears we are very close to global emergency. Given this state of affairs, we are running out of time to fix the problems of our planet. Here, we present what should be decided during the UN General Assembly on September 23 2017 and a reflexive preamble.

We acknowledge your care and efforts to improve the quality of life in many places of the world. However, these efforts have also caused a further increase in the consumption of resources and energy. It appears that this is now driving our planet to the edge: Climate change affects the global water system, agriculture, and the basis of the lives of billions of people. It causes environmental disasters, mass migration, and armed conflicts. Moreover, it is estimated to threaten about one sixths of all species on our planet. Nevertheless, global disaster is not inevitable, if we re-organize the world in a suitable way, as is discussed below.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030 stresses that we need to take urgent action towards sustainability to save our planet. Projections of many scientific studies such as those commissioned by the Club of Rome and other international institutions indicate that, if we would continue as before, the world economy based on growth could face major crises, come to a grinding halt or even collapse in the near future. The lives of billions of people are at risk. It is the moral duty of politicians, royalty and nobility, religious, cultural, scientific and business leaders – in short: the elite – to avert likely disasters, humanitarian crises, and ethical dilemmas as much as possible by bringing the necessary changes of society on the way in a timely manner. It is their responsibility to foster solutions, which will maximize chances of survival and the best conditions for individual and collective evolution (economic, societal, and cultural).

With the aim to “save the planet” many have urged the world community to reduce carbon emissions drastically by 2030 and almost completely by the end of the century. Given that the world population has grown roughly proportional to the global oil and gas consumption, however, such a drop would largely reduce the carrying capacity of the Earth for people, if the reduction in carbon-based energy could not be fully compensated for by other energy resources (preferably renewable ones) quickly enough. If this compensation would be insufficient, such a reduction in energy supply would imply the spread of poverty and the death of millions or even billions of people. Furthermore, it is increasingly obvious that new solutions are not only needed for heating and transportation, but also for the chemical industry, because the production of plastic and fertilizer currently depend on oil. Altogether, a radical re-organization of major parts of our economy appears to be urgently necessary.

Even though philanthropy and engagement in responsible innovation have increased, this major, urgent transformation has not taken place to the required extent, also because those who have “vested interests” in the old system have often obstructed change. Given the many lives at stake, however, procrastination for whatever reason is deeply irresponsible to mankind and future generations, and hence, a great majority of people expects the necessary changes now.

“Vested interests” are no excuse for inaction or delays. Property and power imply responsibility. If this responsibility is not adequately exercised, power lacks legitimacy. If people have to pay with their lives for “vested interests”, these interests clearly undermine the very basis of societies. Human dignity, which underpins many fundamental values and human rights, is the imperative that all individual, political, and economic action should be oriented at. It is the key value and central pillar of many modern societies and, according to many constitutions, must be actively protected by all means.

A Final Call to Action

If humanity wants to bring a positive future or even a “Golden Age of Prosperity and Peace” on the way, we need to dramatically reform our basic societal institutions, e.g. the present financial and monetary system, our economy and society. Even though it seems that the current organizational principles of our world have served us well for a long time, they are now often failing to deliver the right solutions early enough.

Within the current framework, time and again we got trapped in suboptimal solutions to complex coordination games, “tragedies of the commons” and problems of collective inaction. In our highly networked cyber-physical world, linear thinking” (the assumption that effects are proportional to their causes) and the ethics of small-group, face-to-face interactions in relatively simple settings are often leading us astray. Fundamental change is inevitable. It seems that what needs to take center stage now is not how much money or power someone can accumulate, but how much he or she is benefitting others and the world. Apparently, our societies have largely lost track of this basic guiding principle.
Claiming that our problem is overpopulation of the planet reveals lack of imagination and the failure to come up with a suitable organization and use of the resources nature is offering us. By now it is obvious that all traditional problem-solving approaches have failed to work. Also the attempt to revive historical forms of societal organization, empowered by Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, does not seem to work, as the recent experiences in various countries with technocratic Smart Cities approaches have shown.[1] However, if innovation within the current system is not sufficient, the system itself has to be reinvented and changed.

It seems paradoxical that – in times of an abundance of data and the best technology ever – centralized control attempts failed to boost our most advanced economies and societies to a new level of satisfaction and prosperity, sustainability and resilience. The reason for this lies in the complexity of hyper-connected systems, in which processing power cannot keep up with data volumes and those cannot keep up with the combinatorial increase in complexity. Such networked systems often behave in unexpected and counter-intuitive ways: rather than the intended effects, one will frequently find side effects, feedback effects, and cascading effects.

Given these circumstances, centralized control attempts perform often poorly. Even the most powerful artificial intelligence systems will not be able to manage the overly complex and often quickly changing systems of our globalized world well enough. As a consequence, a new, decentralized control paradigm is needed, which implies the need for modular designs, diverse solutions, and participatory opportunities.[2] Therefore, in the following we plea for new ways of participatory decision-making as well as new designs of the monetary, financial and economic system. In the proposed framework, co-creation, co-ordination, co-evolution, and collective intelligence are the main underlying success principles.

Obviously, the world’s supply chains must be organized in a completely different way. What we need is a combined circular and sharing economy, as many have pointed out. Presently, however, because it’s often cheaper, we have many “linear” supply chains, where fresh resources are used to produce large numbers of products for the sake of economies of scale, which are then sold (“pushed”) to as many customers as possible using massive marketing campaigns. The customers will then consume the products and eventually throw them away. Currently, we also have many people suffering from obesity while others are starving to death. Supply chains must, hence, be organized in a better way. We need to learn to think comprehensively in terms of complex systems and “systems of systems”.

Rather than today’s “push economy”, we need an economy driven by demands, i.e. a “pull economy”. The world’s resources would be enough for everyone, if we reused and shared them. Today, however, inhabitants of the industrialized world produce about 50 tons of waste in a lifetime. This includes several cars, computers, smartphones, a lot of furniture and other things that would probably be enough for 5 people, say. So, our planet could, in principle, offer a higher quality of life for more people with less resources.

Reusing and recycling these resources would need renewable energy. Such energy has gained increasing market shares in many places, but the focus has been on big solutions – power stations that would produce energy for many people, as this implies the most attractive business models. However, there is an increasing amount of evidence that more energy-efficient or environment-friendly solutions have often been suppressed by established industries in attempts to maintain their “cash cows”.

In order to open new vistas that bring a better future for mankind in view, we need to reinvent about half of our economy within a few decades. This is possible, but the process needs to start now. It is obvious that the current governance system of the world has failed to deliver the needed solutions on time. Therefore, the following proposal should be urgently considered, and other proposals to the same effect as well.

We are convinced that the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2017 is the right place for this to take place. Decisions in accordance with these proposals should be made and implemented in the 7 years following this date.

A New Social Contract

Royal families have played a significant part in the history of humankind. They have created institutions to coordinate people’s interests and activities, and they deserve to be acknowledged for this. On the other hand, throughout the centuries they have also played significant roles in waging wars, grabbing land, suppressing people, and defending “vested interests”. While mechanisms such as “divide et impera” (“divide and conquer”) or “ordo ab chao” (“order through chaos”), debt spirals and deception have helped to gain and exert power in the past, they do not seem to benefit society and the people anymore. Therefore, they are not suitable instruments to shape our future.

It is time to work out a new social contract that allows everyone to lead a proper life and determine it to a larger extent. Royal and noble families, with their extensive connections and resources, may certainly play a more visible role in creating better opportunities for humanity’s future, particularly in countries where this is currently not the case. Royal and noble families can be formidable agents of change for good. Therefore, they should (be able to) live up to their responsibilities for the future of our planet and coming generations in proportion to their wealth, power and positions.

Reform of the United Nations

The United Nations have been a useful instrument to progress world affairs in a number of areas, but it has failed to produce world peace, to eliminate the production and proliferation of arms, and to reduce the level of inequality in the world. The United Nations Agenda 2030 shows that there are a lot of urgent matters still on the to do list.

Most people concur with the idea that we should have a global organization of world affairs, and that national egoism should be largely overcome. In contrast to the current concept of a “world government”, however, we need a more decentralized, participatory, and diverse approach, which leaves freedom to experiment with new solutions. Therefore, regions should play a more important role.[3] They could form global cooperation networks to address shared problems more effectively. Moreover, lobbying by industrial and other interests should be replaced by a transparent mechanism of policy and decision making. Therefore, industry representatives should sit in the World Council suggested below, while in the future, traditional lobbying should be abolished by law (as it constitutes an intransparent form of getting political influence outside democratic institutions). In order to make sure that decision-making will be based on facts, science should be represented in the envisaged World Council too, and the presence of citizen representatives should ensure that the interests of normal people are represented as well. The following illustration represents the suggested composition of the proposed World Council:

  • Each of the four sections of the World Council would be of equal size (e.g. 1000 representatives each). The Council should aim to achieve the best possible balance over world regions and interests.
  • There should be no veto right. Instead, binding votes should require a “grand majority” of two third. If this grand majority is not reached, one should offer choices to enable locally fitting solutions and some degree of diversity, e.g. by creating a “best of list of solutions”. If an urgent vote must be taken and the choice of a single solution is inevitable, the proposed solution getting the highest number of votes should be implemented, but the solution should be temporary in nature, carefully evaluated, and taken back, if necessary.
  •  The first and main duty of members of the Council is to serve the interest of the world, and their activities must be fully transparent (in particularly sensitive matters, activities may be recorded and disclosed with a 10 year delay). Decisions should be taken on the basis of individual insights, not formal or informal memberships of political parties or interest groups.
  • Members of the Council will have to completely disclose their property, sources of income, formal or informal memberships, special opportunities, and anything that might compromise independence or create a conflict of interest.
  • The business sector may devise their own rules to select their representatives, but the rules should be approved by the other three council parts.
  • Citizen representatives would be chosen in each region based on an open competition transmitted by public media, in which willing participants would demonstrate their knowledge and commitment to the public interest.
  • Scientific representatives should be internationally leading experts, who are economically independent and cover the scope of fields and disciplines in a balanced way. Their research must be funded in full by public sources. It is inacceptable for these members to pursue (or have pursued in the past 7 years) research on behalf of companies or foundations, as these may have a special agenda and bias the scope of research or amount of resources invested in certain questions, approaches, or solutions.
  • Representatives from the four sectors would have to be completely disentangled). Family or other ties, interest groups, political parties or other parties are strictly discouraged in the interest of representative, unbiased decision-making. The attempt to undermine independent decision-making will be sanctioned by exclusion from the World Council.
  • The World Council will establish and run “democratic capitalism” and a multi-dimensional, socio-ecological finance or incentive system as described below. Its members may get a certain percentage of new value created by it, i.e. payoffs shall be performance-based. Taxes (money to create public goods) shall also be directly derived from this new monetary and financial system.
  • The Council’s may be led by a 24 person group of people, composed of 6 elected representatives of each section, which would be coordinated by a chair person. The decisions of this Steering Group would be preliminary and would have to approved by the World Council. Otherwise they will run out by the end of the next World Council meeting.

Engagement in Bi-Annual City Olympics

Cities and social communities can be important agents of global change.[4] A combination of competition and collaboration among cities (and the regions around them) can advance us in our efforts to solve the challenges of the 21st century. Thus, I follow Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom and suggest a "polycentric" approach to solving global problems. City Olympics have a sportive spirit and are expected to mobilize a high degree of citizen engagement. They may become a powerful tool of change. So, what is it all about?

Every two years, cities all over the world would engage in friendly competitions to achieve the best scientific and technological progress, for example, energy-saving, environmental-friendly, socially responsible, sustainable and resilient solutions. To foster open innovation, these solutions shall be shared with the world under open source and Creative Commons licenses. After the competitive phase of each Climate Olympics, there would be a cooperative phase, where the best ideas, technologies and urban governance concepts would be exchanged among the participating cities.

Upgrade of Today’s Capitalism

As today’s form of capitalism is not compatible with our social and cultural value system, while getting ever more powerful through the current money creation mechanism and the spiral of increasing debt, capitalism is sooner or later damaging the foundations of societies and the values they are built on. Therefore, capitalism must be upgraded in a way that is compatible with societal and cultural values and with the fairness principle to provide equal opportunities. This concerns, in particular, the organisation of the monetary and financial system.

Reform of the Monetary System

In view of the massive inequality around the globe, which strangles economic development and the innovation capacity of most people, many people demand to redistribute property or to end it completely, for example, based on a Citizen-Score based access to resources, products and services. This, however, would streamline all human activities according to the interests of those very few people who set the rules, and it would drastically reduce disruptive innovations, which are needed to replace established solutions by better ones given humanity’s existential threats. Since a change of the world’s carrying capacity by 1% decides over the lives and deaths of about 80 million people, it is unacceptable that innovations are obstructed or restricted to those that are compatible with current business models. The survival of billions of people will depend on our ability to drastically increase innovation rates and to generate more pluralistic innovations. In other words, it is morally imperative to enable mass innovation, as neither venture capitalism nor philanthropy nor other standard means of supporting innovation were sufficient to solve the existential problems of our planet and make it a place where all people can live in dignity and unfold their talents.

For this and a number of other reasons, the monetary system needs urgent reform. The current system is not fair and creates serious distortions. It further promotes inequality, which creates political instability. In fact, it tends to undermine the very basis of democracy and other institutions. The current monetary system implies existential and political dependence, which constrains individual and collective development. Therefore, in the future, everyone shall have equal opportunities to unfold their talents and engagement. This shall also include the right to benefit from money generation. From a legal point of view, everyone should be equal, and hence this should also apply to money creation.

Democratic Capitalism, Crowd Funding for All

Benefitting from money creation can no longer be the privilege of a few private persons and banks. Moreover, in times of digital, ecological, and societal transformation, everyone should be able to experiment and discover, without distracting existential worries, how to contribute best to the now emerging new society. Therefore, everyone shall soon get (1) an unconditional basic income that allows to cover the costs of living (including food, drinks and appropriate accommodation),[5] (2) a universal investment premium.[6] This money will not be provided from taxes, but by money generation. Therefore, the overall amount of money in circulation shall be kept at bay by a negative interest rate.[7] The idea is to take money out of the system that is not being used, because it is desirable for the economy and society that money is being invested.
The investment premium shall not be kept or spent by the person who receives it[8]. It should rather be invested into the best ideas and projects engaging for social and environmental affairs, new technologies, improved neighbourhoods, etc. This “crowd funding for all” may be realized by another kind of money. Its height shall make sure that the better half (or at least a third) of proposed projects can be realized. People will be able to earn an additional income by winning projects and contributing to their realization, such that there is a mechanism encouraging innovation and engagement. Project results realized with the investment premiums shall become open source and Creative Commons after a 2-year time period,[9] such that combinatorial innovation and a participatory information, innovation, product and service system can emerge and thrive. Note that everyone would benefit from this approach, and it is not expected that this will be to the disadvantage of large companies.[10]

The above described measures are intended to boost the massive, pluralistic innovation that will now be needed to solve the world’s existential problems collectively as soon as possible. Within just a few years, half of the economy will have to be reinvented to make it sustainable and create new jobs in the wake of automation that it is now driven by Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. This requires existential security, experimental opportunities, and access to innovative and productive means.

If the above reforms are made, a redistribution of property from the rich to the poor may be avoidable – otherwise, it will be inevitable. In any case, however, property that is not actively used by the owner(s) for more than a year, should be made accessible for use through a sharing economy platform that provides fair access to anyone who is qualified for use. Private property that is not publicly registered shall be administered by the region where the property is located. Services and products that have been discontinued, patents or business models that are not being used, shall become Creative Commons within two years’ time.

Note that, in perspective, the universal investment premium may replace the current tax system and other outdated institutions to finance investments and innovations.

Finally, the (relative) value of currencies used in different countries or regions can be determined such that overall imports and exports are approximately in balance.

Reforms of the Financial System

Today’s financial system, particularly with its almost frictionless exchange of stocks and currencies is pretty much one-dimensional in nature. This creates a Utilitarian framework, in which the value of everything can be compared with each other, which implies a hierarchical power structure rather than a system suited for the real-time management of complex systems such as our economy and society. A real-time management, however, would require a multi-dimensional financial or incentive system, which is linked to real-time real-world measurements. To create the desired multi-dimensionality, exchange between the various currencies will have to be discouraged by introducing a suitable amount of “friction” (such as conversion taxes).

Socio-Ecological Finance System

Due to the implications of the new wave of automation on the job market and the need to create a resilient[11] and sustainable world, we have to re-invent about half of our economy in just a few decades and build an ecological, digital economy that consumes much less coal, gas, oil, and other resources. At the same time, it is important to be able to distinguish innovations that hurt nature or other people from those that don’t, and to promote the latter.

Sustainability, resilience, and ethically alignment could be reached with a new, differentiated incentive system – a “socio-ecological finance system” that is efficient, innovation-friendly and democratic at the same time. How can this be achieved? The financial system is essentially a coordination mechanism, which decides who receives how much of what resource at what price. But there could be a myriad of better coordination systems. Instead of managing society with a complicated tax system with 1-2 years delay, the Internet of Things will soon allow for real-time feedback. This can be set up in such a way that the values of society are built into the system ("values ​​by design").

With the Internet of Things, the effects of our actions, including our "externalities", can now be measured at low cost: noise, stress, carbon dioxide (CO2), other emissions, waste, etc., but also desired outcomes such as job creation, social cooperation, education, health, and the reuse of resources. These would be attributed a price or value in the socio-ecological finance system, which would be determined in a participatory way based on a subsidiary organization of the world[12]. With the addition of numerous new currencies, existing alongside today's one-dimensional monetary system, one could increase the desired effects and activities and reduce unwanted ones. Social and ecological commitment would no longer be expensive – it would pay off.

With such an approach, a circular economy would basically emerge by itself, driven by new market forces rather than regulation or a digital command economy. Numerous regulations could be replaced by measurement processes and participatory (subsidiary) pricing processes. Through a hierarchy of incentive systems, one could promote local commitment to achieve global goals. The economy would become resource-efficient and driven by people’s needs. Businesses and citizens could benefit alike. In the interest of digital democracy and collective intelligence, the socio-ecological financial system would be jointly managed by representatives of the economy, politics, science, and the general public as described above in the section on the World Council.

In addition, the socio-ecological finance system could be designed in such a way that it would automatically generate taxes to pay for public goods and infrastructures. By means of the differentiated, multi-dimensional incentive system, one could manage complex systems much better, and even build self-organizing or self-regulating systems. The externalities underlying this incentive system would be measured in a crowd-sourced way, using sensors in smartphones and the Internet of Things. By sharing the measurements and making the data available to all, one could earn different kinds of money. Even without a redistribution of money and wealth, everyone could benefit, simply by organizing the use of resources much better.

Digital Upgrade of Democracy[13] (“Digital Democracy”)

Around the world, many democracies have been the response to revolutions and wars, and their defining features reflect the lessons learnt through history. These features include human dignity and human rights, the respect of a private sphere (in the sense of protection from exposure or misuse and the right to be left alone), self-determination, pluralism and protection of minorities, checks and balances, the separation of powers, anonymous and equal votes, equal opportunities, transparency, fairness, legitimacy and justice. Good education, enlightenment and empowerment of people in order to enable them to make constructive contributions to our collective future are important elements of modern societies, too.

Social media have recently increased participatory opportunities, but have been criticized for promoting hate speech, filter bubbles and echo chambers, polarization and extremism, fake news and disinformation, as well as the manipulation of emotions, opinions, decisions, and behavior. It has, therefore, been claimed that democracy and the wisdom of crowds do not work in the digital age. New, data-driven, technocratic ways of decision-making would be more efficient and should, hence, replace democracy, which is claimed to be an “outdated technology”.

However, we need social systems that are able to produce alternative, better and diverse solutions to the complex problems we are faced with. In particular, what matters for the performance of economies and societies is that people can unfold their knowledge, ideas, talents and resources well. This requires a societal framework that is oriented at increasing co-creation opportunities for all and harnessing collective intelligence. The creation of collective intelligence requires a good educational system, reliable, unbiased information, independent search of information and solutions, and diversity. Under such conditions, the combination of several solutions creates often a better solution to a complex problem than the single best solution.

Constructive forms of massive open online deliberation (MOOD) require new kinds of participatory platforms, which allow people affected by a problem to contribute arguments, ideas, and concerns to the related debate. These contributions would have to be organized in a logical, fact-based argument graph that works out the various perspectives on a complex problem and its various implications for diverse kinds of stakeholders. Artificial Intelligence could help to organize the arguments, while experienced and trusted people should moderate the process in an unbiased manner. Once the different arguments and perspectives are clear and possible solutions have been suggested, one should start a round table with key representatives of the different perspectives to work out integrated solutions in an innovative deliberation process. A voting of the affected people on a “best of” list of integrated solutions should then decide, which of the integrated solutions fits the needs of the people in the respective region best. It should hence be implemented there.

Design and Operation of Information and other Man-Made Systems

To ensure that man-made systems are aligned with the fundamental (constitutional) values of society, including human dignity, one needs to demand ethically aligned design (“design for values”, “value-sensitive design”). Man-made systems should be also culturally adaptive and provide possibilities for users to customize them to their personal needs by providing options. It is furthermore needed
  1. to increasingly decentralize the function of information systems;
  2. to support informational self-determination and participation (e.g. through personal data stores and opt-out possibilities); 
  3. to improve transparency in order to achieve greater trust; 
  4. to reduce the biases and pollution of information; 
  5. to enable user-controlled information filters; 
  6. to support social and economic diversity; 
  7. to improve interoperability and collaborative opportunities; 
  8. to create digital assistants and coordination tools; 
  9. to support collective intelligence,  
  10. to promote responsible behaviour of citizens in the digital world through digital literacy and enlightenment, 
  11. to make algorithms and robots identifiable and ensure (a suitable system of individual or collective) accountability for information systems – or other products and services[14], 
  12. to implement “kill switches” in order to be able to terminate systems that hurt people or violate their rights or undermine the constitution

Experiments with humans (including decision-experiments such as A/B-testing, psychological conditioning, etc.) need to be sufficiently transparent, comply with ethical standards (including informed consent), and allow for opt-out.

Information displayed in print or on the Web or elsewhere should be categorized at least into the following different types:
  • facts (objective contributions – links to original sources in peer-reviewed high-level science journals [or other highly credible sources] would have to be provided),
  • opinions, claims, questions etc. (subjective contributions),
  • advertisements (information provided to potentially create financial or other benefits),
  • personalized [information] (information that has been customized to the respectively targeted recipients, using personal data).
Furthermore, it should be distinguishable whether the sender of the information is
  • a person (displaying the real identity),
  • anonymous,
  • pseudonymous (displaying a made-up identity),
  • an algorithm or bot.

Misclassifications should be suitably sanctioned. Filtering according to categories should be possible. It should also be possible to turn personalization on and off, and to determine the degree of personalization (how many personal parameters are being considered).

Furthermore, “war rooms” should be replaced by “peace rooms”. As compared to a war room setting, a “peace room” is characterized by a number of additional features such as: a higher degree of transparency (to reduce possible flaws and increase trust), a democratic framework of operation (for legitimacy), the use by interdisciplinary teams meeting international scientific standards (to achieve the integration of the best knowledge available), the supervision by ethical experts (to ensure responsible use and innovation), a multi-stakeholder and multi-perspective approach (to find solutions that work for everyone – as much as this is possible), and, in order to increase problem solving capacity, participatory opportunities for civil society (by means of NGOs, citizen science, and/or crowd sourcing).

Guiding Principles for a “Golden Age of Prosperity and Peace”

Science, technology and our inventions have allowed us to dominate the Earth and everything that lives on it. In the meantime, we have increasingly understood, what the side effects and impacts of our man-made interventions are.

Therefore, it is now time for an ethics that makes us fit for our future. So, what kind of fundamental values may be guiding us in the densely connected, digital society of the future?
  1. Respect: Treat all forms of life respectfully; protect and promote their (mental, psychological and physical) well-being.
  2. Diversity and non-discrimination: Support socio-economic diversity and pluralism (also by the ways in which Information and Communications Technologies are designed and operated). Counter discrimination and repression, prioritize rewards over punishment.
  3. Freedom: Support the principle of informational self-determination; respect creative freedom (opportunities for individual development) and the freedom of non-intimidating expression.
  4. Participatory opportunities: Enable self-determined decisions, offer participatory opportunities and a choice of good options. Ensure to properly balance the interests of all relevant (affected) stakeholders, particularly political and business interests, and those of citizens.
  5. Self-organization: Create a framework to support flexible, decentralized, self-organized adaptation, e.g. by using suitable reputation systems.
  6. Responsibility: Commit yourself to timely, responsible and sustainable actions (or omissions), by considering their externalities.
  7. Quality and awareness: Commit yourself to honest, high-quality information and good practices and standards; support transparency and awareness.
  8. Fairness: Reduce negative externalities that are directly or indirectly caused by your own decisions and actions, and fully compensate the disadvantaged parties (in other words: "pay your bill"); reward others in a fair way for positive externalities.
  9. Protection: Protect others from harm, damage, and exploitation; refrain from aggressive or war-like activities (including cybercrime, cyberwar, and misuse of information).
  10. Resilience: Reduce the vulnerability of systems and increase their resilience (e.g. through decentralization, self-organization and diversity).
  11. Sustainability: Promote sustainable systems and long-term societal benefits; increase systemic benefits.
  12. Compliance: Engage in protecting and complying with these fundamental principles.

To summarize the above even more briefly, the most important rule is to increase positive externalities, to reduce negative ones, and to be fair.

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[1] Report on the Wilton Park Event “Disrupting cities through technology”, see

[2] D. Helbing, The Automation of Society Is Next: How to Survive the Digital Revolution (CreateSpace, 2015).

[3] This new form of globalisation may be called “glocalisation”: the principle would be to think global, but act local (and diverse), experiment, and learn from each other.

[4] Towards Democratic Sustainability,; B.R. Barber, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities (Yale University, 2014).

[5] The basic income may, for example, be specified as an existential minimum or the average taxed income in the past three years.

[6] Both is perfectly compatible with most constitutions, if currently existing property is not taken away.

[7] This would not necessarily have to be realized through inflation as we know it today. A decaying value could also be produced by giving each amount of money a specific “creation date” and defining a value that depends on its “age”. It would now be possible to create electronic coins and paper bills that have such a feature built in.

[8] nor should it be invested into family members – with the exception of publicly approved cases, where these people depend on the help of others for health reasons; investments into the same person or project shall also be limited to restrict undesirable kickback deals.

[9] We have currently a similar time-limited protection for patents, so this approach would be compatible with already existing legal principles.

[10] This ecosystem approach is inspired by the rain forest, where it’s the dropping of leaves after some time, which creates humus and, thereby, the basis of abundance and diversity. Note that the biggest trees grow in rain forests.

[11] Resilience, i.e. the ability to quickly recover from shocks and successfully respond to unexpected developments, requires, in particular, a sufficient degree of decentralization and diversity.

[12] The subsidiarity principle assumes a multi-level organization and demands that something should be decided on the lowest level possible, if reasonably efficient, and on a higher level only if necessary. This principle allows for individually, locally, and culturally fitting solutions, which enable everyone to unfold their talents. “Economies of scale” may not be a sufficient reason to replace regional diversity by standardized products and solutions. Pluralism and diversity are the basis of innovation, societal resilience, and collective intelligence. Hence, they must be sufficiently protected from over-standardization and the control by too few companies, institutions, or people.

[13] For a more detailed description of the relevant aspects see “How to make democracy work in the digital age”,; Why we need democracy 2.0 and capitalism 2.0 to survive, published in Jusletter IT, see

[14] analogous to the principle “Parents are liable for their children”