Written by Zsolt G. Pataki with Riccardo Molinari,
The aim of the event was to examine the opportunities and challenges of moving towards a digital democracy, with well-informed, perceptive contributions from representatives of most EPTA member organisations with a long experience in technology assessment and foresight. In his welcome speech, Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO, Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for STOA, argued that assessing the impact of new technologies on our democratic processes and institutions was truly relevant today, when objective facts seem to be less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Democratic institutions must therefore face both the positive and the negative side of technological evolution, which, on the one hand, increases transparency and strengthens the democratic processes, but on the other, facilitates the proliferation of illegal activities.
The EPTA Conference 2018 entitled ‘Towards a digital democracy – Opportunities and challenges’ focused on democratic processes in the era of breakthrough technologies such as quantum technologies, artificial intelligence and blockchain. The conference took place on 4 December 2018 in the framework of the presidency of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network, which STOA held for 2018.
The event included three sessions:
- The first session, on ‘Interactions between Quantum Technology (QT), Block Chain (BC) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)’, was led by Eva KAILI (S&D, Greece), Chair of STOA.
- The second session, entitled ‘Societal and political debate’, was moderated by Mady DELVAUX (ALDE, Luxembourg), member of STOA.
- The third session, on ‘Experiences and outlook’, was chaired by Wolfgang HILLER, Director for Impact Assessment and European Added Value, DG EPRS.
In each session, Members of the European Parliament, members and experts representing their constituents, 17 EPTA member countries and regions from the entire world, as well as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, shared their experiences with new technologies and their impact on the democratic processes in their geographical area of competence. There was a common understanding among the participants that these technologies have already started to produce effects on democracy by modifying interactions at different levels, from the legislative, to that of relations between the media and the citizens, as well as policy areas from security and defence to the economy.
To understand all the facets of this complex situation, it is essential to examine it from different angles. The different experiences and outlooks presented by the EPTA Members of Parliament, members and experts were therefore very precious contributions to the debate. The outcome was a wide-ranging collection of knowledge that provided the pieces to an elaborate puzzle.
Interested? The complete report can be found on the EPTA website.
How to prepare ourselves for a world using quantum technologies
On the afternoon of the same day, STOA hosted its 17th Annual Lecture, entitled ‘Quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity: Catching up with the future’. The lecture was linked thematically to the EPTA Conference and focused on the opportunities and challenges created by greatly enhanced computing power, as well as other applications of quantum technologies. The lecture touched upon issues of cybersecurity and data protection at a time of widespread use of big data, artificial intelligence and data analytics.
After a warm welcome from Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO, Vice-President of the European Parliament, responsible for STOA, STOA Chair Eva KAILI introduced the two eminent keynote speakers: 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 School Media Arts Program.
In the first talk, entitled ‘From quantum puzzles to quantum communication’, Professor ZEILINGER made a link between the first quantum revolution, which began in the first decades of the twentieth century, (where wave-particle duality, based on the work of such European scientists as Marie Skłodowska Curie, Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger and Albert Einstein allowed a better understanding of the structure of matter (atoms, chemical bonds) and the crucial role they played in the development of new inventions, such as lasers, optical fibres, transistors and integrated circuits.
The speaker argued that we are in the middle of the second quantum revolution, which promises a great deal for the future. As Professor ZEILINGER explained, we are no longer in the world of inandout, of zeroandone, and of onand off. Whereas ordinary computers use ‘bits’ to store and process information, which can only occupy two definite states (0 or 1), a quantum computer would also allow a ‘quantum superposition’ of these two states. These superpositions would vastly speed up computation of certain problems, potentially by several orders of magnitude, making it possible to solve such problems much faster than with classical computers.
In the second keynote speech, entitled ‘Preparing students for a world dominated by quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, computer security and the media’, Esther WOJCICKI pointed out that today’s education is based on a teaching approach where students sit passively just listening to lessons. She believes that students will vastly benefit if they spend 20 % of their time working on collaborative projects, using smartphones, tablets and other modern technology. Esther WOJCICKI highlighted how today’s students need to acquire skills in such areas as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication and through what she calls TRICK, i.e. trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness.
According to the speaker, the new generations would be better prepared to face the new reality if we allowed ourselves to change our teaching and education methods. Esther WOJCICKI therefore called for a change of culture, as this is the century of the media, and students to have to learn to use them in an ethical and intelligent way.