Fixing Lebanon with AI — a fiction series proposal

Dēmos — rough pitch for a drama series by Mikael Colville-Andersen.

Back in January, on a visit to Beirut, I started work on a tv series proposal and chose Lebanon as the country in which to set the series. There was good reason to choose Lebanon then and with recent events, it just become much more relevant and real. This is a fiction series. In rough form.

Dēmos

Two childhood friends from Copenhagen, Jonas and Anna, are preparing to launch the boldest Artificial Intelligence (AI) project the world has ever seen.

Jonas (25) is a young programming genius and Anna (25) studied political science at university. They have never lost sight of the idealism that formed their youth and when Jonas reveals to Anna the AI program he has been working on, she realizes that it has the potential for changing the world. Quite literally.

Democracy Ethos Model Operating System or DĒMOS - from the Greek for "the People" - is Jonas' complex AI program that can take over running a dysfunctional country in the interest of getting it on a solid, well-functioning democratic path. Jonas and Anna believe firmly in the need to export the efficient Danish/Nordic democratic model and social welfare institutions quickly and efficiently to less-functional democracies.

Dēmos' machine learning programming has acquired and analyzed all existing knowledge about every form of politics in human history, as well as social structures in every human culture and relevant animal species. It has developed an infallible Best Practice democratic model and learned from the countless mistakes humans have made in governance. It is designed to be a temporary solution to instill democracy in a country after which the country will be returned to the people through elections.

The two young idealists in Copenhagen team up with Philip (45), a charismatic, world-renowned billionaire who made his fortune in tech and who now funds visionary start-ups. Dēmos is, in effect, a start-up, and a start-up needs a pilot project to establish Proof of Concept. Philip puts the full weight of his fortune behind Dēmos.

The primary challenge for the team is finding a suitable country - and a country that will be willing to allow an AI program to replace the entire political system. Jonas gets Dēmos to analyze potential candidate nations and she (they always refer to the program as "she" because of their belief that men have historically been destructive leaders) produces a short list based on the parameters she was given for the pilot project: a small country with a history of complex politics - in a region of similar nations.

Dēmos selects Nicaragua, Fiji, Albania and Lebanon. Anna leads the discussion as to which country is best. Philip agrees with her choice of Lebanon. A ruling oligarchy, sectarian divides, religious complexity and an inability to provide basic services for its people. Lebanon is also in the heart of a geo-political region that has known little peace or stability. Jonas argues for an "easier" choice for the pilot, like Fiji or Albania but Anna and Philip believe that there will be a positive domino effect in the volatile Middle East when Dēmos succeeds.

With Philip's star quality and media exposure leading the way, the world is informed about this epic new project and it dominates the news cycle everywhere, with the whole planet speculating about which country will be chosen.

While criticism and ridicule of Dēmos by the global Establishment is vocal and harsh, grassroots support for the project becomes massive - as the team expected it would be. Behind the scenes, they orchestrate a campaign with the help of activists in Lebanon who support the idea. Massive demonstrations erupt on the streets in Beirut and other Lebanese cities in support of Dēmos and demanding that their country be chosen. Such is the discontent among the citizens against the ruling oligarchy.

Philip maneuvers through the diplomatic minefield as he tries to sell the idea to the country’s politicians. A complex series of compromises are made to assure the wealthy elite and the sectarian/religious parties that they will be largely unaffected by the pilot project. Against massive odds, the team succeed in convincing the country to allow Demos to be implemented. An agreement is signed to allow Demos to take over control of all national, regional and municipal services.

During this complicated process, the tech side of the equation is put into place. A satellite is launched and positioned over the country. Philip funds the building of a secure control center - an impressive architectural wonder located at the end of a remote Norwegian fjord, from where Demos will be run.

Jonas and his new team tech start preparing Demos for the specific task of tackling Lebanon. Condemnation against Demos continues, with criticism of the perceived totalitarian nature of the program and the usual fears about AI. But as the world realizes it is actually going to happen, curiosity increases. A project on this scale is the ultimate spectator event on the world’s news channels.

The day arrives for the launch. While all Jonas has to do is press the Enter key on his computer to activate Demos, Philip arranges a massive media event with his usual flair. Anna has become the spokesperson about the idealism of Demos and tackles questions from the media scrum. It all culminates with the launch of the program.

Demos goes to work pragmatically. Jonas has been preparing well in advance so the program is prepped and ready to go for the Lebanon pilot project. While the process is going to be long, the team knows that there need to be immediate improvements to avoid impatience and discontent among the citizens.

Demos monitors social media channels in order to determine “the word on the street” - what the citizens are struggling with the most. Lack of basic services like electricity and water top the list. The team have been ready for this. Demos cancels a massive dam project and instead work begins on small-scale hydro projects on the country’s many rivers.

Philip is also prepared. A huge fleet of container ships arrive at the port in Beirut with the hydro turbines, so work starts immediately. Buses also roll off the ships as Demos implements much-needed public transport in the main cities. Traffic congestion eases almost instantly.

Demos starts management of the country’s finances through pragmatic business modelling and works to reduce the national debt and reallocate resources to the necessary projects.

All in all, everything looks like it’s working. The people are positive. Life improves. The media are less critical. Jonas and Anna are exultant. These young, Danish idealists are doing it - changing the world. The inherent naivety in idealism is about to be exposed on a level neither of them have foreseen. There are a great many dark forces who see Dēmos as a threat. To themselves, their nation or company or to the world order.

As the episodes progress, conflicts emerge:

- Dēmos has run a calculation of potential threats to herself and the success of the project. But while it could predict that state-sponsored Russian hackers would pose an obvious and serious threat, the enormous scale of Dēmos unleashes an attack that corresponds to that scale.

- While the American administration has voiced cautious optimism about the Dēmos project, the long arm of its intelligence services have other motives and they try to infiltrate the project and even its bunker-like HQ in Norway.

- China feels threatened by the very existence of the project and has designs on attacking the key satellite above Lebanon.

- Israel has ensured for decades that its neighbours are suitably subjugated but the rise of a new, free nation on its northern border is perceived as a serious existential threat to Israel.

- Inside Lebanon, certain members of the oligarchy that agreed to let Dēmos happen start to realize that they may never return to their former status. Pressured by the dark lords of the lucrative weapon industry, they choose to act.

- The humble idealists, Jonas and Anna, thrust suddenly onto the world stage, experience personal conflicts that put Dēmos at risk from the inside. Jonas reveals that he created the entire program in order to win Anna’s heart - but Anna doesn’t share these feelings. The sexual tension between Anna and Philip further complicates the matter.

- For all Dēmos' AI knowledge, it failed to predict one aspect of its existence. People start to create a personality cult around her, which quickly morphs into a god-like status. Despite the fact that Dēmos is designed to allow for religious freedom as long as it doesn't interfere with politics and country management, strong religious figures start to rally their followers against this false god.

- The people of Lebanon are clearly benefiting from Dēmos and citizens of other countries protest in the streets for the project to be implemented in their nation. The only way to stop the continued rise of Dēmos is with military intervention.

Tanks appear at the country’s border..

End Season 1.

Urban playmaker, designer, host of The Life-Sized City tv series about urbanism. Author of “Copenhagenize”. Impatient Idealist.

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