Excerpted from Ways of Being: Animals, Plants, Machines: The Search for a Planetary Intelligence by James Bridle. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2022 by James Bridle. All rights reserved.
In Athens, around 300 BCE, at the very beginning of what we now call democracy, elections did not involve votes in a way we would recognize. Instead, all the major positions of government, from the parliament to criminal juries, were assigned by a method called sortition, or election by lottery. A machine called the kleroterion used a sequence of colored balls to determine who would occupy which post. While we think of ancient Greece as the birthplace of our modern electoral system, the Greeks themselves considered this machine-enabled random selection to be the cornerstone of their equality. Aristotle himself declared, “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.”
Millennia later, this randomness is absent not only from our elections but from our technology as well. According to the Ancient Greeks, this makes our machines incapable of being true agents of equality.