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International Experts Pledge to Strengthen Democracy Through the Use of Tech

Policy Dialogue 2019 | IE School of Global Public Affairs

Policy Dialogue 2019 on Artificial Intelligence.

The risks, challenges and opportunities that the digital transformation, particularly the use of artificial intelligence, is posing for democracy around the world have centered the Annual Policy Dialogue 2019 held on October 21 and 22 and hosted by the World Leadership Alliance-Club de Madrid (WLA-CdM) in partnership with the IE School of Global and Public Affairs.

Around 30 democratic former Heads of State and Government (members of WLA-CDM), representatives of governments, the civil society, academic institutions, think tanks and tech companies have taken part in this event in the Cibeles´ Palace titled ‘Digital Transformation and the Future of Democracy: How can Artificial Intelligence Drive Democratic Governance?”.

More than 100 experts convened in working groups steered by The Future Society, the IE Center for the Governance of Change and Ipsos Global Affairs meet to define policy recommendations that ensure that artificial intelligence is developed and used to benefit societies and strengthen democracy.

“Intellectuals, business, political actors and the society, in general, must unite efforts. We need to take part in this contract”.

“We need to build a new social contract for the digital era”, highlighted Diego del Alcázar Benjumea, Vice-President of IE Business School & IE University, at the opening ceremony. “Intellectuals, business, political actors and the society, in general, must unite efforts. We need to take part in this contract”.

“Quality education and universities are crucial to face these challenges and educate people for jobs that do not exist yet. We need to develop new skills for new realities”, Diego del Alcázar added, stressing that education is “the best weapon” to success in a digital world.

We live in a world where jobs and education are changing drastically, basic rights such as privacy and security are challenged by the use of personal data for advertising, communication, and other purposes, stagnation and inequality are growing, trust in democratic institutions is falling and fake news are expanding. With this backdrop, experts were called to Madrid to take discuss concrete steps and policy actions that could help mitigate the negative externalities of these processes.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of WLA-CdM and former President of Latvia, urged to govern the digital before it governs us:

“Technology may create a challenge for democracy, but if handled correctly, it can help democracy”.

Digital Transformation and the Future of Democracy | IE School of Global Public Affairs
All participants agreed that, guided by values and through concrete goals, technological transformation can provide powerful tools to build better democracies, empower citizens and strengthen democratic accountability.

“It is not the time for technology. Technology is already here. It is time for values”, said José María Alvarez Pallete, CEO and Chairman of Telefónica. “Technology is changing everything that we know and Europe has a unique opportunity to manage this digital transition so it is inclusive and fair”.

Skills and education are also the strongest key elements for Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society in the European Commission. “We need to invest there. That is our duty as public institutions”, she said. “We must be drivers of the change, in two years it will be too late”.

She also emphasized the necessity to strengthen technological and industrial capacities, promote transparency of platforms and critical thinking and to develop ethical guidelines.

Spanish Minister of Economy and Business Nadia Calviño agreed on the need for a regulatory scheme that enshrines core democratic principles. She also shared details on the future National Artificial Intelligence Strategy for Spain.

“New technology is a powerful tool for transparency, the spread of information and citizen engagement”

Jamie Susskind, tech author and past Fellow of Harvard University´s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, opened the inaugural plenary titled “Why is the Digital Political?”. “New technology is a powerful tool for transparency, the spread of information and citizen engagement”, said Susskind. In his opinion, only through innovative policies will democracies be able to reap the benefits of technologies.

Manuel Muñiz, Dean of the School of Global and Public Affairs at IE University, and leader of one of the conference’s working groups added that a new digital compact was needed that would guarantee basic rights but also equality and fairness. “The digital economy, as currently governed, is unsustainable. It is producing the hollowing out of our middle class, and with it, the hollowing out of the middle of our political spectrum”.

A rich debate that concluded with a “Call to Action” and a set of policy recommendations. WLA-CdM Members affirmed their commitment to help make digital transformation an enabler of democracy. “We will, individually and collectively, enjoin leaders to take proactive action to frame the development of digital technologies in an inclusive, fair and rights-based legal, political and social framework”, they wrote in the final statement. “In this rapidly changing world, reacting to technological development is no longer sufficient; proactive policy has become a necessity”.