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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Brainstorming: how democracy could survive the digital revolution

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Aakash Molpariya
Aakash started in Nov 2018 as a writer at Revyuh.com. Since joining, as writer, he is mainly responsible for Software, Science, programming, system administration and the Technology ecosystem, but due to his versatility he is used for everything possible. He writes about topics ranging from AI to hardware to games, stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. He is a trained IT systems engineer and has studied computer science. By the way, he is enthusiastic about his own small projects in game development, hardware-handicraft, digital art, gaming and music. Email: aakash (at) revyuh (dot) com

“The future is private,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recently issued as a new solution. For the filmmaker and author Hito Steyerl, this sounds like something out of the mouth of one of the world’s biggest data collectors after Humbug. “We should not trust Zuckerberg if he wants to sell mumbo jumbo as facts,” warns the artist. Digital technologies are widely used worldwide to “monitor and suppress” the population. They would therefore need to be sharply regulated.

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If it goes to the media professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, there is no question: “The data monopolists must be smashed” to save privacy, other fundamental rights and ultimately democracy. Facial recognition should be prohibited on the model of San Francisco worldwide.

The training data would have stolen the cooperating with authoritarian regimes providers anyway from the Internet users. This complained Steyerl on Wednesday at a panel on the viability of democracy in the digital revolution during the conference Future Affairs from the Foreign Office and re: publica in Berlin. For example, Microsoft refined the technology with the MS-Celeb-1M project using images published online of hundreds of thousands of “celebrities”. Your own picture is also in this database.

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Those who possess the training data for algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) can “colonize the future” with predictions from big-data analyzes, the German-Japanese demonstrated the power of the tech giants. It compares AI to fire, which researchers postulated as the “colonization of time.” The reason for this lies in the fact that the light of a burning piece of wood makes the night a bit of a day and extends the span of human activities into the darkness.

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A much greater threat to democracy, however, is the often accompanying automation. Considerations that algorithms might decide more objectively and thus also replace judges or politicians, they gave a clear rejection: Government and regulation should not be automated because this is the exact opposite of the rule of the people. For the latter, the core is an active consideration process to make well-informed decisions.

Constantly under surveillance is not an abstract threat in many countries, added Marina Weisband, former political director of the Pirate Party Germany. Such a condition influences thinking and behavior. If corporations collected a lot of data, authorities could easily pick it up. Added to this is the common interest of companies and totalitarian states in censorship infrastructures.

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For this reason, activists and civil society in general would not need to go into shock, says the project manager at the Politik Digital portal. “We have to collectively own the infrastructure and build redundant networks,” she said as an alternative. “The technology gives us a voice.” Important are alternative, not profit-driven platforms. The basis for empowering citizens should be laid in community communities and schools.

About requirements for interoperability could (according addition, in a first step) be forced to use standardized open protocols. These will make it possible to interact with members of other services. In an old pirate style, she also campaigned for digital participation tools, forms of direct democracy and a more transparent EU.

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Using the example of South America, Marisa von Bülow, professor of political science at the University of Brasilia, explained that social networks and digital communication channels played into the hands of populists. It was still unclear what impact relevant technologies had on the recent presidential elections in Brazil, but their potential for manipulation was high. For example, election winner Jair Bolsonaro and his team used WhatsApp as the main source of propaganda and sent “non-stop messages” to the right-wing conservative.

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Databases with private cell phone numbers played an important role, said von Bülow. These were often created illegally and provided with targeting criteria. Neither the authorities nor civil society were prepared for it. Even before, a retweet network fueled by social bots pushed the campaign to overthrow former President Dilma Rousseff and “opened the door to more radical thinking.”

Beijing, in particular, has perfected the use of digital technology to control the population with cameras, facial recognition, big data and social scoring, complained Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California, Berkeley. Semi-state national tech giants such as Huawei, Alibaba, or Tencent played an important role in this process, and were in the process of exporting such monitoring technologies, primarily to Africa and South America. Democratic countries, on the other hand, would have to defend themselves and resist “Chinese digital totalitarianism,” which has long been mingled with the surveillance capitalism of Silicon Valley.

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The human rights activist called for a collective response to this phenomenon. China is already playing its market power, especially in mobile communications and social networks, via WeChat or TikTok international. But also in AI and biometric recognition methods threatened to lose their benefits, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. In itself, however, democracy is a strong form of government that has survived the Nazis and the Cold War with its nuclear threats to all humanity.

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