Keynote by Moshe Y. Vardi: Technology and Democracy

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.

Program 🔗

Track Organizers 🔗

Edward A. LeeUC Berkeley, US
James LarusEcole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, CH
George Metakides