A quick review: Citizen Intelligence is a project in radically increasing the ways that we cross check and account our own lived experiences.
So much of what is wrong in the first world can be chalked up to accounting problems. Life has gotten complicated, so complicated that a large and growing larger portion of it is not being accounted for properly. We assume things that are not true and nobody bothers to actually check, to actually see if the work is done. Most of the time it is. First world societies are high trust societies and the penalties are pretty high when you actually get caught so most people do try to do the right thing. But that depends on a critical percent of tasks getting cross checked and verified. We’ve likely fallen below the minimum healthy proportion of such checks and have been below that level for quite some time.
This can play out in the headlines with national debates over what our intelligence agencies have been doing or it can play out in prosaic ways with the monthly water bill being twice what it should be because the pipe leak repair budget hasn’t been fully funded since the 1960s (see: Detroit). Eventually the message carries that it’s advantageous to cheat and the culture of cheating spreads. Society stops being high trust and that sets things on a pretty steep downhill trajectory because once you stop trusting, a lot of extra energy has to go into doing for yourself inefficiently what you used to trust someone else doing for you efficiently.
We used to do cross-checks by media investigative reports. But more and more of the country is without a local paper and investigatory journalism budgets across all media types are being slashed to the bone as part of a losing effort not to lose more papers to bankruptcy and shutdown.
Old style investigations are traditionally narrative heavy storytelling. This is not what we need now because these reports simply take too long to consume. I may have a dozen different types of infrastructure being supplied to me by local governments of various jurisdictions. What I need is a traffic light on a dashboard that lets me know at a glance whether there is a problem and the ability to drill down quickly to identify which system is in trouble and who is responsible.
Drill down dashboards could get data feeds from both government and non-government sources. Our computers talk to their computers and it’s all done quickly and inexpensively and anyone can set up a cross check based on independent sensors at whim, or simply as a class project.
The tools are largely available, or about to come online. We desperately need someone to make the whole widget, to create a de facto standard that ordinary people can use to make sense of the civilization around them and to empower themselves to take action and improve their lives. That’s the central task of Citizen Intelligence, to account in 21st century fashion so we can build a future that is wonderful and true to our values without getting lost in the weeds with minutiae.