The exponential speed of change, an essential feature of digitisation, contains threats that receive more and more attention: Faceless algorithmic machines will annihilate millions of jobs, software enables a surveillance regime never thought possible, and military robots decide over life and death. Notions stressing positive effects of automating processes are often overlooked or actively ignored. Yet, the technological development presents many opportunities: from finding better cures for illnesses faster and creating economic models offering alternatives to the neoliberal market economy, to the liberation of cities from countless cars using self-driving vehicles.
The central question is not whether we want to make use of automated processes; they have been used for decades and are here to stay. The central question is: Who controls the technologies? Lawmakers, at least that is the impression in Germany, are apparently not competent enough to conceptualise these digital changes and design appropriate democratic solutions. In summary, the implementation of “algorithmic accountability” mechanisms has been notably absent from political discourse in Germany.
But a free democratic society is in stark need of this: We have to provide for transparency and accountability of these technologies that change our daily life rapidly. What mechanisms are needed to establish to avoid irreversible situations, created by the corporate sector and governments, that are hostile to democratic societies? How can at the same time economic innovation be fostered? What is the basis of an informed discussion of the pros and cons of this development? And what theory and practice should emanate from the utopian promise that automation holds?
At re:publica we will present an initiative to host this discussion – to become one of the seeds for civil society to build on and expand structures to debate this quest of the century in a competent and democratic manner.