bcause is an ambitious research project funded by the Office of Naval Research of the US which aims at devising the next generation of technological solutions for discussion-enhanced collective intelligence and online deliberation.
Deliberation is the careful discussion before decision, and it can be defined as the thorough dialogical assessment of the reasons for and against a measure before a decision is made. When teams are geographically distributed, decision making is made more difficult by the fact that these thorough conversations cannot happen face-to-face, with people sitting in the same room. Deliberation is therefore carried out online, with social media and online discussion technologies, that are generally limited in features, are not designed to support decision making, and often produce polarisation, division and conflict.
Two Main Issues With Current Online Discussion Technologies
Ineffective dialogue spaces produce ineffective group decisions
Dialogue is the base of human communication and collaboration. Therefore, improving the quality of technology mediated dialogue is key to improve all sorts of technology supported cooperative works, in the home, industry and any organisation we may be part of.
Still, the dialogue systems that we see on the web today are rudimental in the way they structure data, they scarcely support evidence-based reasoning, and lack features to enhance personal understanding and situational awareness.
Lack of Structure and Support for Sensemaking
Existing dialogue technologies create economic dependence, and lack data ethics
Presently, existing Social Media companies own the most accessible and widespread discussion technologies available on the Web. This implies that business and organisations have to pay substantial sums to access technologies for online discussion, on which they have no control and that cannot be customised to their organisational needs. Also, in order to be granted access to these technologies organisations have to “trade” their data rights, which is problematic; because online dialogue systems often contain highly sensitive data, and if well-structured and processed can be misused. Hence, the centralisation of dialogue technologies produces economic dependence from big social media companies and is highly problematic in terms of data ethics and privacy. This motivates the importance to design new tools for accessible online discussions that are decentralised.
We have the potential to do much better by developing new online discussion systems that are designed to be accessible, decentralised, and to enable effective deliberation and decision making.
The bcause.app proposed solution
To transcend these limitations, the bcause project will develop a powerful new tool (bcause.app) for enabling accessible, structured and decentralized deliberation, and then evaluate it in a series of controlled and practical experiments.
We propose an approach that combines three main innovations:
Low cost Argumentation Structuring
Distinctive use of Automated Discourse Analysis and Advanced Visualisations
Decentralised Anonymous Reputation
bcause.app will result in an online discussion technology that is equally accessible but higher quality than common social media, in that it provides an analytic engine to identify and intervene on emerging bias and improve the overall quality of the communication.
The bcause.app discussion environment will also provide a secure space for online communication; in that it will use anonymous reputation protocols to promote privacy and decentralisation of dialogue data while at the same time incentivising accountable discussion.
Finally, the new online discussion technology also will enable better informed participation, by providing automated reporting and interactive visualisations to help people making sense, summarise and communicate the state, progress and dynamics of an online debate.