In the not so far future a lot of people live inside virtual realities. But there are not only humans living in these virtual worlds but also machines (programs/AI/bots/etc...) on different levels of consciousness. Some of them don't even know that they are not humans. Each of these simulated realities is a city, and I would like to find a way to make them self-governable.

I don't know how democracy could work in this case. If I give everybody/everything a right to vote, then one could exploit the system by creating a lot of bots. Forcing them to solve a captcha before voting is a too low level of entry.

The government does not have to work democratically, but it has to serve the conscious beings living in the virtual world, and care about their well-being.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking how a governing computer system differentiates between bots and humans without using captcha? $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2019 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ I just noted, why I think that voting is not possible in a system like this. $\endgroup$
    – Iter Ator
    Jun 1, 2019 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ Would your question strictly be "How to create a test to ensure that humans pass but bots don't?", which might work as a question, but designing a virtual democracy would be off-topic as it would involve writing the story for you. $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2019 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ You are seeking a solution without first having defined the problem. What does the government do in your virtual city? What are its functions, what are its powers, what are its limitations, what are its goals? How does it do its work? Only then you can think of how that government is established and how it is put together. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 1, 2019 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP just as an addendum - OP seems to implicitly expect that the government would be democracy and it would require humans voting. Presumably in a way that's very close to the real world. I'm not sure a virtual reality government would do either of these, really. And as a side note - we are voting here and we're in virtual reality, too. So, voting doesn't seem to engendered. Whether it's a democracy is an entirely different manner, though. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jun 1, 2019 at 14:50

5 Answers 5


Lazy answer: don't do anything. If everyone can create bots, let them, and then no-one will have the upper hand.

Less lazy answer:

Processing power and storage space ain't free. In fact, depending on the nature of the substrate your virtual reality runs on (how about a colony ship in deep space?), it may even have a strict upper limit that cannot be exceeded, and all the money and influence in the world won't change that; the laws of physics are not amenable to bribery, alas.

So, you wanna create a bot? Great! You can use some of your own processing time and space, but that means you're going to be a lot slower, or stupider, or forgetful during your political campaign. You could borrow your neighbours, but they're probably also getting requests from other would-be politicians for exactly the same thing. Suddenly the use of bots as proxy votes is just an abstraction for persuading people to support a particular point of view, and so it has suddenly just devolved into a plain old political beauty contest. One (simulated) brain, one vote!

But there are not only humans living in these virtual worlds but also machines (programs/AI/bots/etc...)

That's not necessarily a problem. If they think they can vote, they can vote. Nothing wrong with that, unless you're some kind of human supremacist...

The government does not have to work democratically, but it has to serve the conscious beings living in the virtual world, and care about their well-being.

Well now. What's consciousness? Can you identify it by looking at the simulated thought processes of your virtual electorate? Do the conscious things have a physical embodiment, like a load of hairy meat with eyes and limbs and orifices?

If yes, then your problem isn't even a problem. If you don't have a consciousness-module (whatever one of those looks like) or a physical body with an attached voting right then you can't vote, problem solved.

If you can't tell the difference between a conscious and a non-conscious mind, then all bets are off, because by definition you'll never be able to determine if you're solving the best interests of your conscious electorate because you'll never know who they are, and you may as well give up trying to discriminate. You probably can't even think of a good use for consciousness, so really you ought to go read Blindsight and Echopraxia and give up all hope. Yay!


I presumably misquoting this phrase, but anyway:

Internet is not a democracy, but an loose federation of petty dictatorships and fiefdoms

Right now already people are enthusiastically being engulfed in their own echo chambers. Instead of mass media that would lie in crude and uniform way, people right now prefer to hear much more personalised lie, targeted especially at them. Lie? Oh... I mean message.

If the consumer satisfaction is the target, then one should allow people (bots, whatever) to select their own expectations concerning gov to let them migrate to their dream city. You may let them vote, but only for purpose of feeling happy and fulfilled as citizens, not to make any actual decision, as they may damage something. Real decision would as usual as in any working society done by technocracts, this time presumably by AIs.


If (some of) the bots don't know they're not human, how do the humans know?

I'm going to get to the government in just a moment, but this is important. I suppose the software could let the actual humans (and the software would need to know which are humans and which are bots) could let the humans see the bot avatars with a big honking sign that says "I'm a bot!" while the bots, looking in a VR mirror, don't see the sign — but your stronger AI bots would start figuring something out even if you did that.

My point is, in the long run, there's likely no way other than through serious interaction for bots and humans to figure out who's who — and you had better hope they never do, because the one and only way to enact government will lead to a bot-vs-human war that would make WWII look like a couple of school boys having a pissing contest.


Governments operate on the threat of violence

There's no such thing as a nice government. There can be effective governments, possibly even efficient governments,[citation needed] but there's no such thing as a nice government — because the only option a government has to maintain order is to take something away from the governed and you can oversimplify the issue by reducing tht "something" to two things: resources and liberty.

Seen through this simple lens, the only difference between a government and a street gang is this: one is considered desirable and the other isn't.

What sort of government would be up to you the players

Any form of government that has been tried on Earth could be enacted in your VR environment. In fact, I suspect if you visit places like Second Life you'll discover a number of governments operating in different locations. Where there is an economy, there must be a government. However, in the case of something like Second Life, the government is inherently overseen by the Terms & Agreements of Second Life.

And here's where you get to make a decision. It's your software. Unless you open source the software, the software owner has complete control over the environment and can impose restrictions. In such a case, without serious hacking (see narrative necessity), you know exactly which bots belong to whom and it's trivial to impose a one-vote-per-user limitation.

The problem is if you open source the software or otherwise free the system so that only an in-VR context can be known. Why you'd do that is beyond me, software (like any complex system) and the hardware that supports it must be maintained. It's very much impossible to "set it free" and make the system wholly non-interactive with the "real" world.

Which brings us back to the threat of violence.

What can you do to a player/user who refuses to comply with the rules? You can take his/her resources or liberty. Everything from "you can't visit this location for an hour" to "we've permanently deleted your account and the $8,524.23 worth of enhancements you paid for are permanently lost. Obey the rules next time."


Before you develop your in-VR government, you need to figure out what the relationship is between the real world and your VR's users. That relationship is the "actual government" because it imposes the harshest restrictions.

After that you can develop your in-VR government, or let your characters develop it, usually in support of whatever economic system has been imposed by the VR's design (remember, you have inside-VR money and outside-VR money, they will touch, and that means your in-VR government has something to do with not only the T&A of your system, but the very real governments outside the VR, too.)

And if you're lucky, your smarter bots won't figure out that they have power to influence the "people" around them, imposing the same mechanics of violence that you permit for the operation of the government to get their way.

Vive la Révolution!

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    $\begingroup$ sounds like the plot of a movie...... $\endgroup$
    – Efialtes
    Jun 2, 2019 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Efialtes, I can neither confirm nor deny the potential influence of the plot of Ready Player One. There's pretty much no such thing as an original story. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 3, 2019 at 4:40
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    $\begingroup$ I mean that is most likely where the OP got his idea. $\endgroup$
    – Efialtes
    Jun 3, 2019 at 10:16

Government is a power structure for manipulating flows of scarce resources. It sounds like you are exploring a post-scarcity environment. It is important to think beyond scarcity models.

If you are exploring 'different' scarcity decide which of your resources are scarce and who the winners and losers will be and then build your logic from there.

It is also worth considering what constitutes crime. There are essentially two types of crime, crimes against the person and crimes against property. Are either of these possible? If so then what would be the consequences? Does your society care and why? There is a lot of story in just exploring these ideas.

As for democracy, why?

Who built the system and why are they giving everyone (anyone) a vote?

Neal Stephenson has some good ideas in Snowcrash.

Charles Stross also looks at some of these issues in Halting State, Rule 34 and some of his other books.

Charles and Cory Doctrow have some fun with it in Rapture of the Nerds.

Ian M Banks takes it a long, long way in his culture novels.


Vetting and citizenship system

Don't forget that in the real world, generally voting is restricted to citizens. Underage persons cannot vote either. People can be stripped of citizenship.

And democracy is not necessarily about giving every person one vote. It is about preventing a small elite from maintaining its own power.

So, the system I would suggest:

  • people have a formal history (birth records, criminal records, education, career) and those that "appear" with no history are treated as untrusted outsiders
  • "citizenship" or voting rights can be earned by a reasonable level of contribution to society (as assessed by a transparent board)
  • so if someone creates bots that actually benefit society, then it's not that bad if the bots vote that person's way—obviously not ideal (ideally the bots vote on their own conscience) but what can you do
  • rights can be stripped for significantly anti-social behaviour and you might need to be tougher on citizens continuing to contribute to society
  • at the end of the day, you have to draw the line somewhere—we don't allow pets to vote because they're not really able to create or maintain a system of government. Entities that are obviously mechanical bots shouldn't be given a vote. If there is no evidence of reasonable comprehension of social institutions then an entity certainly shouldn't be trusted not to be a puppet
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds nice, except that the greater the accuracy of identification methods and police records, the higher the level of crime. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Jun 2, 2019 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ "Preventing a small elite from maintaining it's own power". LMAO. How's that working out in the many 'democratic' kleptocracies worldwide. $\endgroup$
    – pHred
    Jun 2, 2019 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly my point. That's what makes them "democratic" instead of democratic. $\endgroup$
    – Artelius
    Jun 3, 2019 at 9:29

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