Written by Zsolt G. Pataki with Riccardo Molinari
Technologies permeate all levels of modern society and economy, the internet and electronic devices are basic tools in our everyday lives; we are increasingly dependent on technologies. Some of these technologies – such as quantum technologies, artificial intelligence and blockchain, to name the newest and most dynamic – are now entering the democratic processes. However, none of this will benefit society unless we know whether regulation is necessary. How can we ensure that this immense potential does not damage our democracies, as well as attain a higher level of cybersecurity?
Assessing the impact of these new technologies on our democratic processes and institutions is truly relevant in the context of our ‘post-truth society’, where facts seem to be less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. This is a challenge for scientists, experts, the media, and also for policy-makers and society as a whole. Science and technology are crucial to democracy and there is a clear need to create the conditions for a vigorous dialogue between scientists, politicians and the public.
Democratic institutions must therefore face both the positive and the negative side of technological evolution that, on the one hand increases transparency and strengthens democratic processes, but on the other, facilitates the proliferation of illegal activities. These characteristics allow state and non-state actors to be both victims and perpetrators. Theft of data, fraud, industrial espionage, as well as terrorism and trafficking, are just a few examples of threats coming from the web, where technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain or quantum technologies are used to implement criminal intentions.
In this context, the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) is organising two highly relevant and interesting events on 4 December 2018:
The EPTA Conference 2018, scheduled for the morning and entitled ‘Towards a digital democracy – Opportunities and challenges’, will focus on the topic of democracy in the era of breakthrough technologies. This event takes place in the framework of STOA’s presidency of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network in 2018.
Following the opening by European Parliament Vice-President Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO and an introduction by STOA Vice-Chair Paul RÜBIG, representatives of EPTA members from different countries will present their contributions and share their experiences, mainly from the point of view of the impact of these new breakthrough technologies on our societies and political systems. Panel discussions will follow the individual presentations, grouped in three sessions, and opening the floor to questions from the public.
The 17th STOA Annual Lecture, which takes place in the afternoon, is thematically linked to the EPTA Conference and is entitled ‘Quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity: Catching up with the future‘. This event will focus on the opportunities and challenges created by greatly enhanced computing power, as well as other applications of quantum technologies, touching upon issues of cybersecurity and data protection at a time of widespread use of big data, artificial intelligence and data analytics.
The speakers are world-renowned personalities of great authority and influence on these developments: Professor Anton ZEILINGER, Professor of Physics and President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences; and Esther WOJCICKI, American technology educator and journalist at the Palo Alto High Media Arts programme.
Technologies evolve and, with them, our vulnerabilities; measures to protect us must keep up. The very experienced and committed speakers at this year’s Annual Lecture will share their valuable insights into the development of these technologies and their impacts on our societies.