Decision duel

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A decision duel is a hypothetical process for arriving at an optimal decision partly through the use of crowdsourcing techniques. It was originally described in the 1988 science fiction novel David's Sling by Marc Stiegler (ISBN 0-671-65369-5). As far as we know, it has never been implemented in practice, though it certainly could be done with present technology.


[...] The room has the contours of a small auditorium, although only the first two tiers support ordered rows of seats. At the focal point of the room, Bill confronts the largest computer display he has ever seen – larger than the one in Houston for controlling spacecraft launches.

Hammond speaks. "This is the main screen upon which the Institute carries out its largest and most important decision duels. It's not used too often for that purpose. What we're looking at now is one of our demonstration duels – a duel held over a decade ago to determine the merits of strategic defense."

PAN. Bill looks back at the display in fascination. The colorful splashes that streak through the wall resolve, as he approaches, into lines of text. With few exceptions, the entire screen holds only words, arrows, and rectangles. The rectangles enclose and divide the text displays.

They stop at a console perched high above the audience: clearly it is the display master controller. Hammond continues. "As you can see, the overall dueling area is divided into three sections." He taps a track ball on the console, and a pointing arrow zips across the screen. It circles the left half of the screen, then the right, and finally runs up and down the center band of gray. "Each duel pits a pair of alternatives against each other. Often, the alternatives are negations – one position in favor of some action, and one position against that action. The left part of the screen belongs to the proponent for the action, and the right half belongs to the opponent. These two people are known as the slant moderators. They have slanted viewpoints, of course, and they act as moderators – anyone can suggest ideas to them for presentation. Of course, no one calls them slant moderators. The nickname for slant moderator is decision duelist."

The pointer continues to roam across the center band. "The center is the 'third alternatives' area, where ideas outside of for-or-against may be presented by either of the duelists, or by anyone in the audience. In the duel we have here, the third alternatives section remained closed – no one came up with any striking ways to finesse the question."

The arrow shifts upward. Above the colored swirl of text boxes stands a single line of text, a single phrase. It dominates the screen, with thick letters as black as asphalt. The lettering seems so solid Bill wonders whether it is part of the display, or whether it has been etched into the surface in bas relief.

This one phrase running across the top overlaps all three sections of the screen. Bill presumes that top line describes the theme of the duel, the title of the topic under discussion. Reading it now, he sees it does not. Instead, this dark, ominous line – so striking and hypnotic, as if sucking the light from the air – reads:

David's Sling, pages 68-69