I listened to the new seminar from The Long Now Foundation today, by Beth Noveck. (You should listen to the Long Now Seminars, too, by the way. They are a series of great lectures by really smart people applying long-term thinking to their area of expertise. Find them here.) She is Obama’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government. Her lecture is called “Transparent Government.” It’s not nearly the best of the series, but I was interested in what she was saying about what some private companies are doing with the data that is now available about the operations of the government. She talked about Sunlight Foundation‘s coverage of the health care summit, how as each politician spoke, you could see who donated how much to their campaigns. I imagined video of the speakers, with subtitles laying out the relevant campaign contributions floating in front of their faces. I checked it out and it wasn’t like that. It was more like a chat that happened at the same time as the summit. Pretty cool, but probably too much work to catch on with the public.

But why can’t we have what I imagined? It seems like it could be automated. The data is available. We have face-recognition programs and voice-recognition programs. I wonder how it would change things if there was a cheap app that effortlessly outed any politician in real time like that, if a senator speaking about health care reform could be seen as a mouthpiece for insurance companies, based on the actual amount of money they’ve received. It would make politics more entertaining to watch, at the least. And probably creepier, too, but I am willing to make that trade-off.

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