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Democracy in Action: Helping Teens Explore the Intersection of AI and Civic Engagement

Teens study about democracy as a form of governance in their political science syllabus. What are the issues that act as impediments in effective governance in a democratic system? Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) help in simplifying complicated tasks such as compiling large amounts of data and providing a condensed compilation that could be used for more effective decision making? An exploration at the Young Writers' Club.


What do we know and understand about democracy? Teens share what they know.

All the teens were familiar with the concept of democracy, having studied it in school and having participated in school elections. However, it seemed like the concept of polarization as a possibility seemed to be an angle that they hadn’t had a chance to ponder about.

The agenda for the day was to examine if AI (Artificial Intelligence) could in any way help reduce polarization and in the process lead to more effective policy making.

Below are excerpts from our discussion.

“Have you encountered situations in which you felt that all voices weren’t heard? It could even be a conversation about politics or something that matters to you. Maybe education policies in place which don’t work for you and you wish you had a say in it?”

After a brief silence, general consensus emerged that they hadn’t really thought of it and had come to simply accept things as they were.

“Maybe that is true for larger issues too. People learn to live with policies and come to accept it.”

“There could be situations in which the majority opinion could heavily influence policy making that could prove to be disadvantageous to the minority.”

“I disagree. I think in the democratic form of governance, the minority interests are also covered. As we can see from laws that have been passed earlier that do take into consideration minority interests as well.”

“Sometimes, a policy to cover minority interests could lead to unexpected problems making the policy itself ineffective. Take the example of the free bus pass for women in Andhra and Karnataka. There was a case where a girl went missing after she decided to go on multiple joy rides on the bus.”

“Who would have thought that someone would take advantage of the policy in a wrong way. Having said that, the fact that many women are benefitting from the policy cannot be ignored. Again, this is a classic example of how polarization can happen. Women’s interests and benefit has been taken into account. But the impact of this policy on other parties such as transport provider businesses has not been considered leading to protests. Could things have been different if this had been discussed on a crowdsourcing platform?”

The concept of crowdsourcing


“Crowdsourcing” is a relatively new term. It simply means enabling people to express their thoughts/opinions about any given issue on an online platform. Technology helps collate the inputs and categorize them. Participants have the option of learning others points of view, rethinking their own if they want and later arrive at a suitable consensus. In other words, instead of having an elected representative speak on behalf of the people, the people have the option of stating their opinions/thoughts and then presenting a solution that the government could implement.

Governments across the world have been trying to involve the general public in policy making for about 40 years now. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report dated 2020, provides 600 examples of such experiments. Experiments however, haven’t always been successful.

A more recent example of one such experiment is the French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron’s National Debate experiment in response to the yellow vest movement and later with reforms related with EU policies saw 5 million people visit the website and 700,000 participate in the debate.


Although there was significant participation, the government found it hard to make sense of the data that got recorded. Experts suggest that AI could make a difference here.

The notion that AI could take over humankind if we are not careful, is a source of worry and it was evident that this thought was strong in all our minds. Extending that worry a bit, the possibility that AI would make policies in the future, was clearly unacceptable. As one teen put it, “Using AI as a tool to make complicated tasks easier is fine but letting it take over governance is scary and unacceptable. AI cannot have the power judgement which still remains with humankind”

“Using AI as a tool to make complicated tasks easier is fine but letting it take over governance is scary and unacceptable.”

Is it possible to embrace AI as a supportive tool with necessary precautions in place?

AI could help in not only categorize opinions but also create easy to read summaries, map groups, help people easily react and share opinions etc. Eventually, the number of groups supporting different ideas/opinions merge and the number of groups with contrary opinions begin to diminish. Gradually a consensus that is acceptable for all emerges. In this approach it appears that every voice gets to be heard and every input considered. There are mechanisms in place to prevent trolling to reduce related complications. Consider this in the context of millions voicing out their thoughts/opinions, it is likely to make far more sense. There are still some risks and difficulties involved. But the working theory is that these can be resolved using advanced technologies.

Still in the nascent stages, experiments are happening across the world to create more effective and efficient democracies in which there is lesser chances of polarization. The objective is better governance and far more effective problem resolution in the smallest of societal strata. The expectations seems to be in the lines of making decision making at the various levels of government a lot more need based, easier and efficient. If that could be done, then progress is likely to be far more steady and more comprehensively available to all. If it is successful it could be the way our democracies are shaped in the foreseeable future. If you enjoyed reading this article, click on the button below to stay informed.

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