Democracy in the Digital Society (talk)

Talk given at the Association of Foreign Affairs, Lund. 22 November 2012.

Abstract

Information technology impacts the foundations of democracy and the open society. For instance, algorithmic selection and filtering of information in search engines (Google) changes the forces underlying access to and control over information. Automatic and personalised news curation (the Filter Bubble) removes the open society’s prerequisite of an agora, i.e., a public forum for discourse. Electronic voting (on the Internet, or even by mobile phone) changes the fundamental ritual of democratic institutions and is open to catastrophic abuse. Collaborative editing systems (Wikipedia, the open source movement) provides technological tools and social contracts for scalable and transparent conflict resolution.

Related information

At least some of the issues covered in the presentation can be pursued using the following references:

  • Wikipedia’s article about PageRank gives a good introduction to how Google’s original algorithm for ranking web pages works, and contains lots of good references for further reading.
  • The most popular source for evangelism about the algorithmic news curation is Eli Pariser’s TED talk Beware online “filter bubbles”, based around his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Penguin Press (New York, May 2011) ISBN 978-1-59420-300-8.
  • The meme that “Code is Law” is coined by Lawrence Lessing, see for example Code is Law: On Liberty in Cyberspace in Harvard Magazine (2000) or Lessing’s homepage
  • For more about the idea of programming as a civic virtue, see Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, Soft Skull Press (September 6, 2011).
  • Clay Shirkey’s TED talk How the Internet will (one day) transform government mentions many of the ideas about how to make the legislative process collaborative, scalable, transparent, and accountable by using ideas from the open source community.
  • Democratic models based on graph algorithms for spectral ranking are from Boldi et al., Viscous democracy for social networks, Communications of the ACM, Volume 54 Issue 6, June 2011, pages 129-137.

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