Who’s the Fairest Democracy of Them All?

Question: Which present-day democracy offers the fairest system for electing officials?

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Steven Brams: Well I think most of the democracies in the world use what we call proportional representation. That parties run, not candidates by and large, and you vote for a political party and the party gets a number of seats in the legislature proportional to the number of votes it got. The problem that critics of this system have is that people don’t have their personal representatives. It’s a party that you vote for, it’s not the individual. And shouldn’t a voter have the opportunity to go to a representative, or his staff, and seek redress from grievances. That’s harder to do if it’s got an impersonal party than if it’s a real person.

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But I think Germany and a few other countries that use basically the German system do well on both counts. In Germany you vote for parties and they get seats in proportion to the number of votes of the parties, but in addition, you vote for an individual representative in your district. And half the German Parliament, the Bungestag is called, is elected on the basis of your vote for the representative in your district, and half depends upon your vote for the party. And if your party, say the Green Party, which typically gets about 10% of the vote, wins no seats at the local level because it’s one of the major parties that usually wins. The Socialists or the Christian Democrats in the case of Germany, then the Green Party is going to be compensated from the seats at the national level when you vote for party. So, if they got 10% of the vote for the party, but no seats because they won in no districts, then they would get seats from the national vote and the representation would be made up. It would be made proportional because you have that 50% at the national level to play around with. So, I think that’s a kind of near-ideal system for a parliamentary democracy. You have your personal representative, but you have your proportional representation at the national level. And a few other countries have adopted this, in Eastern Europe for example.

Recorded on February 2, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

If the U.S. wants to develop a more rational, representative electoral system, it might look to Germany.

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  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
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  • The robots will be half a regular car and will need to be unlocked by a PIN code.

Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: