Machiavelli Confronts 21st Century Digital Technology: Democracy in a Network Society
18 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2009
Date Written: December 10, 2009
Computer science and informatics have great potential to improve citizen engagement with public officials, voting, access to public information and other democratic processes. Yet progress towards achieving these aims on a wide scale remains slow. A main reason for this lack of progress is that digital technologies create the potential to alter significantly the relative influence of different groups and actors in the political process, and thereby quickly become embroiled in a political debate that crosses and complicates technical discussions. These political conflicts and uncertainties have been made more transparent in applications of the Internet and related Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to support democratic processes. The challenges created by these techno-political tensions, and how to address them, were the overall cross-cutting themes that emerged from the interdisciplinary Dagstuhl Seminar on Democracy in a Network Society, on which this paper is based. The seminar involved a multidisciplinary group of computer and social scientists, legal scholars, practitioners and policy experts who aimed to chart the latest technical approaches to e-democracy and governance. Their intention was not to tell politicians how to maintain and enhance their power with the support of new technologies, in the manner of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s 16th Century adviser to the prince. Instead, participants explored how new technologies could enhance or constrain the power of politicians and the general public, depending on how the technologies and the systems based on them are designed and implemented.
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