For Santiago Siri, being born in
Argentina means wanting to try to change the make-up of politics and of
democracy itself. The young computer scientists sees his generation as
"digital natives and also democratic natives, after so many years of
dictatorship, it is their turn to understand how the internet and democracy are
connected". That is exactly what he is working on. He has earned his place
among the MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition’s Innovators Under 35 Latin
America 2017 winners for his career trajectory and for his visionary work to
endow activism with the digital tools to build an online democracy.
Siri’s solution is based on blockchain, the technology on which cryptocoins such as Bitcoin have been built. It is a distributed database, which acts as an accounting record. Every transaction is permanently recorded, if the blockchain adds another element this information is not simply located on a single computer, but all those who belong to the network can see it. Changing one of these blocks secretly is impossible. Put simply, it is this feature that makes this technology ideal as a cornerstone on which to operate a voting system, which is what Siri has done with his platform Sovereign. Instead of monetary transactions, his platform uses blockchain to verify the voting process on an online participatory democracy platform.
"Implementing blockchain eliminates the need for a central authority to verify the ballots," Siri said, which avoids "the risk of vote tampering by those who have the power to administer voter registration." It also makes the count completely transparent and verifiable (see Innovators under 35 Central America 2015: Jorge García). When Sovereign is used to manage an election, each vote is recorded in a blockchain.
Any entity "from a minimum of two people, to a global one, from the administration of a building, a club, a trade union, a city council ..." can use Sovereign to manage decision-making in a transparent and verifiable way, explains the Argentine visionary. A pilot study of its use took place during the Colombian peace agreement referendum process, when it asked Colombian expatriates for their opinion. "This experience let us know the key element [which reason led to the rejection of the agreement]: giving the FARC political rights," says Siri.
Siri's relationship with digital activism goes back to 2012 when he participated in the founding of the Net Party (Partido de la Red in Spanish). Later he collaborated on the development of DemocracyOS, a platform for citizen participation (see Innovators Under 35 Argentina and Uruguay 2016: Guido Vilariño). His political experience "helped me learn a lot, but it was also frustrating to face the more corrupt facets of the system," he laments. In 2015 he moved to the US and founded the Democracy Earth Foundation with the backing of Y Combinator. There he got into concepts such as liquid democracy and technology like blockchain, which led him to conceive of and develop Sovereign. This liquid democracy tool allows for both direct and delegated voting.
"Citizens vote every day with Facebook likes," says the creator of Sovereign. This social network acts as a mirror for his project, as it allows people to express their opinion on a multitude of issues. On Facebook however, unlike on his product, the information and its subsequent use is not transparent. An organization using Sovereign can set out the matters on which it is calling its constituents to vote for; who will then be able to cast their votes, which will be counted in a secure and transparent manner, as easily as pressing "like".
Digital advisor and partner at Peruvian marketing agency Quántita and Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2017 jury member, Dino Zolezzi believes that the use of blockchain to scrutinize policy-making "is a very creative idea and speaks volumes about Siri's ability to identify new tools and technologies which can solve society’s problems”.