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What are the implications of digital technologies for contemporary democracies? What light and shade do we see in digital democracies?
In the midst of current debates about the societal implications of digital technologies stands the fear that they are about to doom democracies as we know them. This view stands in stark contrast to the early days of computers and the internet when digital technologies promised to liberate humans from hard labor, achieve free speech for all, enable better politics and administration, and many more blessings. This event series draws from the rich legacy of political theory to scrutinize digital societies and their ambivalent relationship with democracy. A first series of events explores the glorious tales of democratic theory; the second approaches the tales of democratic disaster and failure. All sessions take a dive into democratic theory and into recent digital technologies and socio-technical trends.

Each lecture will have a keynote, followed by a discussion. First year students will prepare short reflections. The lectures are addressed to faculty, students, and the wider public.

David Runciman: Superhuman Intelligent Machines from the Leviathan to Meta: Giving away the control of our lives to corporations, states and AIs – and taking back control

Thursday, 11.04. 18.30-20.00 Uhr

In the wake of public fears about how AI will transform contemporary societies, David Runciman makes the argument that we have witnessed similarly profound transformations before. He explains that since the creation of nation-states and large corporations, societies have had to deal with superhuman intelligent machines. Runciman likens the idea of government to an algorithm. The Leviathan of state – or of Google or Meta – is an expression of our collective selves without a soul or a conscience. In its ideal formulation it offers continuity and shared purpose; when it goes rogue, the “man-made monster” has the capacity to exaggerate our destructive failings. Despite taking a deep dive into the History of nation-states and corporations, Runciman’s look is future-oriented. The future relationship is yet undecided. The checks and balances that societies have applied to governments and corporations must be made relevant to artificial intelligence; human judgment is not to be abandoned.

David Runciman is professor of politics at the University of Cambridge and co-host of the popular Talking Politics podcast and the more recently launched podcast Past Present Future. In 2023, he published the book The Handover: How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States and AIs. Profile Books.

Andreas Jungherr: AI and Democracy

Monday, 29.04. 18.30-20.00 Uhr

©Benjamin Herges/Uni Bamberg

The success and widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) have increased awareness of its economic, social and political impact. The public debate currently focuses on AI models that enable the automated creation of text, image, video or audio content. The use of these models in journalism, in election campaigns and by the state raises questions and fears about their potential impact on democracy. The idea of powerful machine intelligence, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), has triggered far-reaching expectations and fears regarding its potential or threats. However, current AI successes have little to do with a still largely fictitious AGI. Instead, specific AI-supported applications usually fulfill clearly defined tasks in specific areas. We cannot automatically assume that the successes of AI in other areas of society can automatically be transferred to politics or democracy-related areas. To better assess the impact of AI on democracy, we need to take a closer look. Therefore, this presentation focuses on four important building blocks of democracy: political self-determination, equality, elections, and on the conflict between democracies and autocracies.

Andreas Jungherr is Professor of Political Science and Digital Transformation at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bamberg. He researches the impact of digital media and artificial intelligence on politics and society. He is the author of the books "Digital Transformations of the Public Arena" (with Ralph Schroeder, Cambridge University Press, 2022) and "Retooling Politics: How Digital Media are Shaping Democracy" (with Gonzalo Rivero and Daniel Gayo-Avello, Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Please register here.

In education, we cherish success and fear failure. But not every learning experience is a success right away. In fact, making mistakes and then learning from them is the norm rather than the exception. This talk is about finding a different, more productive stance which can turn failure into success for learning. Drawing upon research in secondary computer science education, specifically in the context of designing and programming wearable and machine learning applications with electronic textiles (clothing that connects sensors and actuators via sewing circuits with conductive thread), Yasmin B. Kafai will present the idea of "Debugging by Design." This instructional approach involves students actively designing failure projects for others to fix, collecting, and celebrating their mistakes, and learning from each other in the process. By intentionally designing failure projects, students can deepen their understanding of concepts, enhance problem-solving skills, and cultivate a growth mindset. Additionally, this approach can be extended to explore machine learning applications as failure artifacts, fostering ethical considerations and mitigating biases. As machine learning becomes increasingly pervasive in various domains, it is essential to understand its limitations and potential biases. By embracing failure as an opportunity for growth, we can create a positive and supportive learning environment and illustrate how failure can become a path to success in learning.

Yasmin B. Kafai is Lori and Michael Milken President’s Distinguished Professor at the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, with a courtesy appointment in Computer and Information Science. She is a learning designer and researcher of online tools, projects and communities to promote coding, criticality, and creativity. With colleagues at MIT, she developed the programming language Scratch and researched participation in clubs, classrooms, and communities. More recently, she has investigated the use of electronic textiles to introduce computing, engineering, and machine learning to high school students and teachers as part of the nationwide Exploring Computer Science curriculum. She has written several books, among them “Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming,” “Connected Gaming: What Making Videogames Can Teach Us About Learning and Literacy,” and recently edited with N. Holbert and M. Berland “Designing Constructionist Futures: The Art, Theory, and Practice of Learning Designs” — all published by MIT Press. Kafai earned a doctorate in education from Harvard University while working at the MIT Media Lab. She is an elected Fellow of the American Educational Research Association and the International Society for the Learning Sciences.

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