A good year on from the initial invasion, Russia’s war against Ukraine is still a burning issue among champions of democracy. It was therefore only natural for it to be in the spotlight at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, which took place in the Danish capital in mid-May 2023. The annual summit is organised by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded by former NATO Secretary General and past Prime Minister of Denmark Anders Fogh Rasmussen. As a partner of the foundation, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft was also in attendance.
THE DIGITAL REALM ALSO POSES A THREAT TO DEMOCRACY
In addition to geopolitical crises, technological advancements are also putting democracies under pressure. The second day of the summit was dedicated to this issue and included a panel discussion and workshop organised by the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft. The panel discussion was titled Democracy by Design after the project set up by the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft as part of its Digital Europe 2030 initiative. The main questions explored by the panel included: How can we ensure that technological and AI innovations are responsible and promote democracy? What should companies be doing of their own accord? Where are state regulations and international cooperation needed?
EUROPE MUST ASSUME THE ROLE OF REFEREE AND PLAYER AT THE SAME TIME
The distinguished members of the panel each had their own viewpoints to share. Teresa Hutson, Corporate Vice President of Technology and Corporate Responsibility (TCR) at Microsoft, emphasised how supporting democracy is one of the company’s main concerns, not only because the software provider does 95 percent of its business in democracies, but also because technology should serve the public interest. Dubravka Šuica, European Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, stressed how AI can help people to better defend democracy, but that this requires knowledge of democratic processes and more lifelong learning as technology keeps progressing. Member of the European Parliament Eva Maydell, who is conducting negotiations on AI legislation on behalf of the European Parliament, explained how Europe must become an active global player and do more than just use its regulations to act as a referee. She added that this would require Europe to form close technological alliances with international partners, especially the USA. Given the significant risks posed by AI in particular, the panel were generally in favour of regulation, but commented that this should be guided by the desired end result and not by the technology itself.
SUCCESSFUL DIGITAL TOOLKIT WORKSHOP
The conference ended with a workshop for selected participants who had the opportunity to test the Digital Europe 2030 – Democracy by Design toolkit for the first time. The toolkit is yet another result of the partnership between the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation.
If social media and AI-based chatbots increasingly alter our perceptions of reality, this will erode the foundations of society
It has been designed for employees of startups and established tech companies with the idea of making them more aware of how digital products and services are impacting democracies. The aim is to encourage them to take democratic values and ethical principles into account as early as in the design stage of new technologies. Around 30 global professionals representing Google and Microsoft as well as tech startups, large foundations, industry associations and international universities had the chance to try out the toolkit and share their expert feedback.
Call for the tech industry to step up and take responsibility
‘Besides lots of positive feedback, the workshop gave us a number of valuable suggestions on how we could improve the toolkit,’ reports Alexandra Hunger, head of the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft’s Digital Europe 2030: Democracy by Design project. The ideas put forward included adding information on what makes a particularly successful or unsuccessful AI application or providing the names of specific companies that may be interested in using the toolkit . ‘The test group agreed that the toolkit is extremely relevant. If social media and AI-based chatbots increasingly alter our perceptions of reality, this will erode the foundations of society,’ says Alexandra Hunger, adding that the tech industry in particular has a key role to play in preserving these foundations, the survival of which are so important to its continued prosperity. ‘We’re now looking forward to finishing off the toolkit before making it available to the wider public soon.’
Find more information about the project here.