Technology & Democracy

Technology & Democracy2

DIALOGUE SNAPSHOT REPORT

May 2023
Washington, D.C.

Dialogue Summary

The Technology & Democracy dialogue conference, held in Washington, D.C. in May 2023, convened experts to examine the intersection of digital transformation and democratic governance. The dialogue explored how digital technologies can enhance civic participation and local governance while acknowledging the risks of social inequalities and authoritarian abuse. Participants discussed the global race for digitalization, highlighting both positive examples and growing disillusionment with technology’s actual impact. 

The dialogue emphasized the dual nature of technology, which offers potential benefits but also significant risks, particularly in terms of digital threats to democracy such as content blocking, surveillance, and misinformation. Participants underscored civil society’s role in mitigating these threats, advocating for awareness, research, advocacy, support services, and transparency. The discussions also delved into the complexities of big data, AI, and decentralization, emphasizing ethical considerations, the balance between control and transparency, and the need for international cooperation to protect democratic values in the digital age.

The dialogue continues the Center’s long-running series on Collective & Human Security.

Key Takeaways of the Technology & Democracy Dialogue

Digital Transformation and Civic Participation: Participants explored technology’s potential to enhance democratic participation and local governance, with examples from around the world highlighting both successes and challenges. They discussed initiatives like the Open Government Partnership and technological deployments in countries like Ukraine, Taiwan, and Tunisia.

Social Inequalities and Digital Divide: Participants raised concerns about growing digital divides, which limit access to civic technology for social elites and exacerbate existing inequalities. The influence of major tech corporations and governments in the tech field was also noted as a complicating factor.

Digital Threats to Democracy: Participants examined how both autocratic regimes and democracies use digital technologies for control and suppression, categorizing threats into three key areas: blocking content, surveillance, and digital perception/misinformation. The discussion emphasized the role of civil society in addressing these challenges.

Challenges and Ethical Considerations: Participants explored the dual nature of technology as a central theme, acknowledging its potential benefits and significant risks. They discussed ethical concerns regarding big data, AI biases, hyper-targeted information, and deepfakes.  Furthermore, they emphasized the need for responsible AI development and deployment.

Disinformation: The dialogue addressed the increasing pervasiveness of disinformation, emphasizing the importance of understanding regional variations. Debate ensued about the role of civil society in combating disinformation and the need for transparency and accountability from tech companies.

Data Privacy and User Control: Discussions highlighted the importance of user control over data and transparency in data collection processes. Participants also considered the potential socioeconomic impacts of AI, including job displacement and economic repercussions.

Decentralization and Web3: The rise of internet decentralization, particularly through blockchain and other technologies, was examined for its potential impact on society, privacy, and security. Ethical concerns, inclusivity, and the risk of monopolization were discussed, along with the challenges of ensuring equitable access to these technologies.

Collaboration and International Cooperation: Participants stressed the need for collaboration among civil society, governments, and tech companies to protect democratic values. Additionally, they reached consensus about the importance of international cooperation to address the ethical, social, and technological challenges posed by emerging digital technologies.

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