This page is a quick and dirty prototype for use only while this website is under construction.   For design notes and other comments about this page please see the Notes section at the bottom of the page..  

At some future time there will probably be a dry-as-dust web page called “An Introduction to Social Algorithms” which will be even less thrilling than the freshman college course of the same name.   The page you are reading isn’t that — instead it is a page of very brief summaries of a few social algorithms, that exists more as a placeholder till the author takes the time to design and write the page that should be here.

Some Social Algorithms

  • One Divides, the Other Chooses
  • Final Offer Arbitration in Baseball
  • the Gerrymander, a Mythical Beast
  • Disputed-Area-Only Self-Determination

The first three of these are well-known social algorithms.   The last one, Disputed-Area-Only Self-Determination may also be a well-known social algorithm although the author of this page could not remember hearing or reading about any such algorithm and was therefore forced to reinvent it.  

One Divides, the Other Chooses

To stop two little boys from fighting over the last piece of birthday cake, cut it into two equal pieces.    The beleagered parent should not divide the piece of cake in two, or the boys will blame the parent for unfairness and continue to argue over which is the biggest piece and who should get it.   Instead, one boy should cut the cake and the other choose his piece.   The second boy (chosen e.g. by flipping a coin) is explicitly entitled to choose the bigger piece if there is one, so the first boy is strongly motivated to cut fairly.

Final Offer Arbitration in Baseball

Major league baseball uses a surprisingly subtle and effective arbitration algorithm to resolve salary disputes between teams and players.   Each side is constrained to produce a final offer and the arbitrator can only choose one of these final offers.   Both sides are therefore strongly motivated to script offers which are not only realistic but actually fair.   Finding an arbitrator who is acceptable to both sides in the dispute is a non-trivial problem, but has proven possible in practise.  Assuming a fair-minded arbitrator, each side is strongly motivated to propose a solution which the arbitrator will choose as “the fairest of them all”, so each side competes for what they want by searching for solutions which have few outrageous demands and many equitable trade-offs.

The GerryMander

To ensure the election of candidates from the desired political parties, electoral boundaries can be carefully chosen to follow the contours dividing regions of differing political opinions.   For example,  by slicing away the largely white middle-class suburbs of large (black, working-class) American cities such as Baltimore and finding the often narrow corridors which can join such fragments into strangely shaped regions of the appropriate size for electoral districts, it is possible to arrange for black inner-city voters to be represented by black politicians from these districts.

Once common in American politics, the salamander-shaped electoral district has been ruled unconstitutional and is now supposedly extinct in that country — it is now only a mythical beast.   But perhaps like the Sasquatch or Loch Ness Monster, rumours of its extinction may be somewhat exaggerated.   Some strangely shaped constituencies still exist and it remains difficult to prove that district boundaries have been chosen without any attempt to influence the outcomes of elections.  There are also strong arguments in favour of some gerrymandering to improve the chances of candidates from minority groups.  A moments thought should convinced the appropriately educated reader that the division of a geographical region into electoral districts that are “fair” (or that do some gerrymandering) is a combinatorial optimisation problem that cannot be solved by committees or courts of law.

Disputed-Area-Only Self-Determination

(There must be a better name for this algorithm!)

Self-determination in which resident voters of a geographical region could choose which of two neighbouring nations they would be a part of was enshrined in the charters of both the United Nations and the earlier League of Nations.   It did not prove very effective and was rarely used.   One reason it failed in practice was the difficulty of defining the region which would take part in this plebiscite or referendum.   But there is a simple algorithm for solving this problem   Each of the two neighbouring countries can be allowed to claim any or all of the region whose fate is to be decided, with the understanding that only the residentsn of areas claimed by both nations will get to vote on their national affiliation.

Like the other social algorithms described above, this disputed-area-only form of self-determination includes a mechanism for making each participant act fairly whether they want to or not.    If a country claims more territory than it has resident voters to support, it decreases its chances of winning at the polls.   If India claims all of Kashmir and so does Pakistan, whichever country has the most partisans living in Kashmir would win, and therefore the other country would do everything it can to prevent this ever coming to a vote.   But in self-determination using Disputed-Area-Only (DAO) voting each country would be strongly motivated to claim only a part of Kashmir — a part settled mostly by people of their nationality.   If they claim too much they thereby enfranchise many voters of their opponent’s nationality.

This DAO algorithm is not actually intended for resolving the status of a large area like Kashmir in a single appeal to the electorate.   It should be applied piecewise, settling disputes for smaller portions of the territory, which may then remain settled or may participate in future iterations of the process.

(This is just a crude sketch, which unfortunately makes a simple but effective algorithm sound complicated and probably ineffective.   These failings will be remedied on a future page dedicated to this topic).


  • this page exists partly to provide examples of social technology other than social network optimisation
  • the four examples on this page will each get a page of their own when time and energy permit
  • the author of this page invented the fourth (Disputed-Area-Only Self-Determination) algorithm but acknowledges that the underlying idea is an old one and what seemed like invention was almost certainly reinvention

Copyright © 2002 Douglas P. Wilson


Related Web Pages are:

The main Social Technology page.

FindCompatibles , the key page, with the real solution to all other problems explained

Technological Fantasies , a page about future technology

Practical Immortality , not the immortality of the body, nor making a copy of the mind in a machine,  but actual transfer of a person, personality, memory  and consciousness into a supercomputer

Social Tech a page about Social Technology, technology for social purposes.  I think I was the first person to use this phrase on the Internet, quite a long time ago.

Roughly corresponding to these web pages are the following blogs :

FindCompatibles devoted to matching people with friends, lovers, jobs, places to live and so on, but doing so in ways that will actually work, using good math, good algorithms, good analysis.

Technological Fantasies devoted to future stuff, new ideas, things that might be invented or might happen, such as what is listed above and below.

Practical Immortality yes, practical immortality.   Don’t write this off as insanity, please.  See the first entry in the blog first.

Sex-Politics-Religion is a blog about these important topics, which I have been told should never be mentioned in polite conversation.  Alright that advice does seem a bit dated, but many people are still told not to bring up these subjects around the dinner table.

I believe I was the first person on the Internet to use the phrase Social Technology — years before the Web existed.

Those were the good old days, when the number of people using the net exceeed the amount of content on it, so that it was easy to start a discussion about such an upopular topic.  Now things are different.  There are so many web pages that the chances of anyone finding this page are low, even with good search engines like Google.   Oh, well.

By Social Technology I mean the technology for organizing and maintaining human society.  The example I had most firmly in mind is the subject of  FindCompatibles , what I consider to be the key page, the one with the real solution to all other problems explained.

As I explained on my early mailing lists and later webpages, I find that social technology has hardly improved at all over the years.   We still use representative democracy, exactly the same as it was used in the 18th century.  By contrast, horse and buggy transporation has been replaced by automobiles and airplanes, enormous changes.

In the picture below you will see some 18th century technology, such as the ox-plow in the middle of the picture.  How things have changed since then in agricultural technology.  But we still use chance encounters, engagements and marriages to organize our home life and the raising of children.  

I claim that great advances in social technology are not only possible but inevitable.  I have written three novels about this, one preposterously long, 5000 pages, another merely very very long, 1500 pages.  The third is short enough at 340 pages to be published some day.  Maybe.  The topic is still not interesting to most people.   I will excerpt small parts of these novels on the web sometime, maybe even post the raw text for the larger two.

This site includes many pages dating from 1997 to 2008 which are quite out of date.  They are included here partly to show the development of these ideas and partly to cover things the newer pages do not.  There will be broken links where these pages referenced external sites.  I’ve tried to fix up or maiintain all internal links, but some will probably have been missed.   One may wish to look at an earlier version of this page , rather longer, and at an overview of most parts of what can be called a bigger project.

Type in this address to e-mail me.  The image is interesting.  See Status of Social Technology

Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, Douglas Pardoe Wilson

I have used a series of e-mail address over the years, each of which eventually became out of date because of a change of Internet services or became almost useless because of spam.  Eventually I stuck with a Yahoo address, but my inbox still fills up with spam and their spam filter still removes messages I wanted to see.  So I have switched to a new e-mail service.  Web spiders should not be able to find it, since it is hidden in a jpeg picture.   I have also made it difficult to reach me.  The picture is not a clickable link.  To send me e-mail you must want to do so badly enough to type this address in.  That is a nuisance, for which I do apologize, but I just don’t want a lot of mail from people who do not care about what I have to say.

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