Ray Kurzweil has made a name for himself by forecasting important trends in consumer technology, global politics, and computer intelligence. Yet even Kurzweil couldn't predict the latest disruptive event in his life: Ray's running for US President in 2012! Well...kind of. The noted author, inventor, and futurist is a well known, and widely admired, figure in the Singularity community. He co-founded Singularity University, advocates the importance of understanding exponential growth in intelligence via lectures around the world, and has been featured in several documentaries. In other words Kurzweil has plenty of fans among futurists.
As it turns out, at least one of those fans thinks he should run for president, and has started the ball rolling using Americans Elect. AE is an online organization hoping to add a third party presidential candidate to the national ballot in 2012. The not-for-profit is open to electing anyone nominated (and supported) by their delegates – and any US citizen can be a delegate. So, as of 12:01pm PST on February 10, 2012, Kurzweil's name is in the running to be AE's candidate. Is he a serious contender? Ha! Note even close. I doubt Mr. Kurzweil even knows he's been added to the list of potential nominees. But putting Ray's name into the Americans Elect system highlights how easy and accessible that organization is...and how much potential they have to change American politics.
Just to be clear, Ray Kurzweil was added to the Americans Elect website as a draft candidate. He would need 5000 signatures in 10 different states to be actually considered for the AE primary in June. (Or maybe 1000 signatures in 10 different states, AE has different requirements based on candidate qualifications.) As of now, Kurzweil's “campaign” has just two supporters and has raised no money. Sure, maybe the unwitting candidate will garner some serious cash and attention from his much beloved Singularity community, but that seems unlikely. His nomination, at this point, is mostly symbolic.
In fact, to confess, Singularity Hub isn't completey uninvolved in his nomination. Kurzweil was submitted to Americans Elect by Frank Whittemore after a brief email conversation with compatriots on the Singularity Hub Members group email list. Are we generating our own news here? Not intentionally, but we'd be lying if we said we didn't hope this sort of thing would be a regular product of our new membership community.
Whether one should consider Kurzweil's nomination an inside joke or not really isn't the issue. The potentially game changing power of Americans Elect is. Whittemore went from having an idea about a candidate to officially registering him for election over the course of a single morning. Taking the first step towards getting a candidate in the Americans Elect primary is remarkably easy. Which fits with what Americans Elect is all about: empowering US citizens to elect a president that really represents their interests. The following video explains more:
Americans Elect is very serious about the changes they want to promote in the US electoral system. They've already gathered more than 2.4 million signatures, over 80% of the 2.9 million signatures they'll need to get on the presidential ballot in every state. As of February 6th, Americans Elect had been certified to appear on 16 state ballots (Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Maine), had two certifications pending (Hawaii and Wyoming), and were at work to be added in 17 more (Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Montana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Nebraska, Maryland, North Dakota, Idaho, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota). They've raised more than $20 million towards their goal of $30 million. They have more than 360,000 registered delegates who will vote in June's primary, with likely many more to join in the months ahead. Just as impressive, perhaps, Americans Elect has had more than 2.4 million visitors and answered a whopping 17.8 million questions about their project.
Could AE candidates eventually win the US election? It's very, very unlikely. As Singularity Hub discussed previously, the electoral college is an almost insurmountable barrier to third party candidates. Even Ross Perot, who received nearly 20% of the popular vote in 1992 didn't get a single electoral vote. With the current state of presidential elections it seems almost impossible for someone outside the two party system to actually get elected. It's not particularly cynical to point out that this is very much by design of the Republicans and Democrats.
That doesn't mean, however, that Americans Elect won't have a big impact on the 2012 election. Online activity is already shaping the electoral process. Candidates answer questions posted on YouTube, millions upon millions of dollars are raised via online donations, and politicians can live or die based on the news spread through the internet. What Americans Elect hopes to do is truly democratize the US presidential election at all levels of the process. It's easy to become a delegate, it's easy to add a candidate, it's easy to find a candidate that agrees with your politics, and it should be easy to vote come the primary in June. The hard work comes in gathering signatures and raising funds for candidates, but that's the sort of work that should be hard. Organizing an election, after all, is a sort of litmus test for who can organize the national bureaucracy as president.
By the time November rolls around and the US is heading to the polls, Americans Elect should have their candidate on ballots in the vast majority of states (if not all). That feat will demonstrate that a more open, and democratic, approach to politics is possible. There's little chance that an AE candidate will win the election, but losing well could be just as rewarding for the nation. Eventually we may live in a country (global society?) where starting a campaign for a relative unknown candidate over breakfast isn't such a far-fetched idea.
And for the record, Mr. Kurzweil, I suspect that if you actually ran you'd get the Singularity Hub endorsement. No contest.
[source: Americans Elect]