Democracy in the Digital Era 🔗

Keynote by Moshe Y. Vardi: Technology and Democracy

Moderator: George Metakides, Digital Enlightenment Forum, NL

For more than a decade now, studies by different organizations on the state of democracy world-wide, while using different indices and methodologies, arrive at very similar conclusions: there has been a continuous quantitative and qualitative decline of democratic practices, including participation in and integrity of elections, civil liberties and the rule of law.

Many analysts trace the origin of this decline back to the period 1990’s, following the fall of the Iron Curtain and characterized by the euphoric belief that democracy was a sort of natural state that would be inevitably not only preserved but spread broadly via capitalism and globalization.

This optimism was further reinforced in the 1990’s and 2000’s by the “blossoming” of the internet and the World Wide Web which promised to usher in a digital cultural renaissance which would reinvent and strengthen democracy.

This optimism turned out to be utopic, as democracy today is seen to be facing threats some of which are in fact magnified by the socio-political impact of digital technologies.

While economic inequalities, the effects of unrestrained globalization and constitutional fault lines are cited as the leading causes for the decline of democracy, these are more and more closely intertwined with the role played by digital technologies and the role of Big Tech and their platforms in particular.

In the current context with the potentially transformational generative AI developments, the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a very small number of very big companies further magnifies the threats to democratic processes and institutions and the erosion and manipulation of the public sphere.

We are in fact witnessing an immense concentration of economic and political power which, those holding it, can use it to wield vast control over both our civic and individual lives. Technology, since the beginning of history, had significant and occasionally transformational socio-political impact with, inadvertently, positive and negative aspects.

The Monday afternoon session aims to examine the democracy technology interaction, identify threats and opportunities and, when possible, formulate proposals for sustaining democracy in the Digital Era.

Beyond Chat-GPT: The Impact of AI on Academic Research (Panel) 🔗

Track: B4) Research and Education
Moderator: Viola Schiaffonati, Politecnico di Milano, IT

Hannes WerthnerTU Wien, AT
Edward A. LeeUC Berkeley, US
Moshe Y. VardiRice University, US
James LarusÉcole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, CH
George MetakidesDigital Enlightenment Forum, NL

The widespread diffusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, such as conversational agents powered by Large Language Models, has popularized the debate on AI and its impact on different fields. Discussions about the consequences of the adoption of these tools in the job market or their impact on creativity are now common also in the public discourse.

One of the contexts in which the debate about the impact of AI has been relatively less discussed, at least for a broader audience, is academic research. However, the use of AI tools for research, and the correspondence discussion of its impact, has been common from the early days of AI back in the second half of the last century. It seems now that this debate is revamped by the adoption of the last generation of AI tools, some of which are freely available not only for researchers, but also for a larger population. Is this a real new perspective, with revolutionizing results – as many claim – or is it rather a continuation of a development already started decades ago?

This panel will address this and similar questions starting from the first-hand experience of different scholars working in the context of computer science and engineering that will provide their perspective on this relatively undebated issue. These questions will be discussed within the framework of Digital Humanism, as the pursuit of supporting people through digital technologies, especially AI, and of protecting people from adverse effects of these technologies.