Democracy in a Digital Age

  • cooperation
  • economy
  • knowledge society
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end date
organised by
City of Ghent

EUROCITIES 2018 Spring Knowledge Society Forum conference attracted over 100 participants.

De-block-racy: A two-bit politics?

Will bitcoin provide a model for the future of democracy? Should your mobile phone be part of your ‘personhood’, covered by your human rights? Could AI be a good substitute for your local politician?

These questions and more were the subject of expert analysis and political debate held in Ghent during the EUROCITIES 2018 Spring Knowledge Society Forum. Hosted in Ghent’s City Hall, the conference testifies to the fact that building ‘Democracy in a Digital Age’ is about embedding the new in the old.

You can watch the entire conference on the embedded video below! 

Is our democracy out of date?

Albert Meijer opens up the issue of technology and democracy with his analysis of different democratic possibilities in, ‘Participative or Representative democracy?’. Direct voting with your smartphone; specially tasked citizen councils; politicians elected by lottery: could the latest tech help reinvent democratic participation?

All these models come with pros and cons, and can be more, or less useful for different goals. Experimentation, just like in the lab, is key to finding styles of democracy that can produce the best results for everyone.

Just what is blockchain technology?

And how could the bitcoin model enrich our societies in ways other than financial ones? Could cryptocurrencies support the transition towards decentralised governance? In this presentation, we get some simple explanations from self-professed ‘non-expert’, Gerrie Smits.

Are our governments swimming with sharks?

Aral Balkan, in his talk ‘Smart Citizens, not Smart Cities’ gives a stark warning to cities trusting too much in the beneficence of Silicon Valley venture capitalists – his message: never take candy from strangers. Mr Balkan presents the incredible work that the city of Gent is doing to get its residents off Facebook and other social media platforms to instead curate their own private and self-owned websites, supplied for free by the city. This is the future, and you saw it here first.

How are politicians thinking about your data?

Next come some political insights from the inside – a panel discussion, chaired by Erik Mannens, with Mary-Ann Schreurs, deputy mayor city of Eindhoven in charge of innovation, culture and design; Karl-Filip Coenegrachts, chief strategy officer, city of Ghent; and Paula Paola Pisano, deputy mayor city of Turin in charge of innovation and smart cities.

How do we enshrine, and improve, democracy in the digital age? Ms Schreurs insists that data is the property of the individuals it documents, and that the contents of the algorithms organising our digital lives must be public; Ms Pisano focusses on the opportunities for a more inclusive democracy that are offered by mobile apps and other new technologies; and Mr Coenegrachts espoused the importance of defining a common language and common priorities in a transparent fashion that involves citizens and other organisations functioning in the city.

Is our future fictional, or is fiction our future?

Wrapping up the event, Etienne Augé presents ‘Cities and Science Fiction’. Contemporary innovations, social and technological, are often inspired by the science-fiction of the past; but in our fascination with these images, can we tell the difference between an instruction manual and a warning? And how do we reconcile the diverse societies of today with the more homogeneous hegemonies that produced many of our most celebrated visions of the future?