Democracy in a Digital Future

Democracy in a Digital Future

International Conference 25–26 March

The digital era is changing the terms on which democracies operate. The Prime Minister’s Office of Iceland hosts an international conference on the challenges of digital technologies for democracy, equality and the rule of law in cooperation with the EDDA Research Center at the University of Iceland, the Icelandic Parliament and the Media Commission of Iceland. The conference is held electronically and in Harpa Conference Center in Reykjavík 25–26 March 2021. In-person participation depends on gathering restrictions.

As the global reach of tech platforms, big data and algorithmic decision-making continue to expand, the conference will bring together experts, academics and political representatives to discuss how new forms of communication and information-gathering could work to reinvent rather than undermine democratic institutions and processes. The rise of social media platforms, together with the collapse of news media, has created a new information environment that is vulnerable to new forms of manipulation and control. Meanwhile, the transformation of social interaction and personal experience into digital data has facilitated the centralization of pervasive surveillance capabilities in the hands of private corporations and governments. Likewise, the data-informed application of algorithms, automation and predictive analytics to public regulation and law enforcement is raising serious rule-of-law concerns about due process, discrimination and inequality as well as the lack of transparency and accountability.  

The conference will address the role of government and public policy in upholding democratic, rule-of-law procedures and human rights amidst these technological developments. Can the digital sphere be regulated while protecting and enabling the new democratic possibilities it affords?

Speaker information and abstracts

25 March 2021 

Day 1 of Democracy in a Digital Future, 25 March 2021

Plenary Session: The Politics of the Digital  

The plenary session brings together leading scholars to discuss the democratic challenges of the digital age. While democratic renewal was one of its great promises, the digital revolution has increasingly become a quest for profit and power at the expense of individual autonomy and democratic agency. Driven by the increased availability of personal data and the analytical power of algorithms, digital platforms have been exploited for mass surveillance, disinformation, and behavioural control by corporations, governments, and populist formations. The session explores whether it is possible to reverse the tide. Can digital technologies still be leveraged to rejuvenate stagnating democracies in crisis? How can the design, ownership, and use of digital systems be regulated so as to make them compatible with a democratic future?

Chair: Jón Ólafsson (University of Iceland) 


Welcome by Katrín Jakobsdóttir (Prime Minister of Iceland) 


Digitise Democracy or Democratise the Digital?

David Runciman (University of Cambridge)


Is Democracy Computable?

Mireille Hildebrandt (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)


Coffee Break 


Surveillance Capitalism or Democracy? 

Shoshana Zuboff (Harvard University) 


Roundtable Discussion with Katrín Jakobsdóttir, David Runciman, Mireille Hildebrandt, Shoshana Zuboff, Sveinn M. Jóhannesson (University of Edinburgh)and Maximilian Conrad (University of Iceland) 

26 March 2021 

Day 2 of Democracy in a Digital Future, 26 March 2021

Panel: Designing a Democratic Future 

In recent years, researchers and activists have amassed evidence that biases ingrained in digital technologies and automated systems are undermining democracy by amplifying exclusions along the lines of gender, class, and ethnicitySimilarly, the growing sophistication of bots and artificial intelligence have made disinformation easier to tailor, targetand disseminateand much harder to spot and remove. As automated systems make more and more decisions that shape everything from news to public services, this panel explores how the design and regulation of new technologies can be guided by democratic values in support of equality and civic rights. What is the role of governments, citizens and civil society institutions in ensuring accountability, transparency, and democratic control of the digital sphere? 

Chair: Sigríður Ingibjörg Ingadóttir (Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB))


Responsible AI: From Principles to Action 

Virginia Dignum (Umeå University) 


The Role of the News Media in Tackling Online Misinformation 

Jón Gunnar Ólafsson (University of Iceland) 


When the Private is Made Public: Digital Surveillance and Sexual Privacy 

María Rún Bjarnadóttir (University of Sussex) 


On the (Inevitably) Digital Nature of Future Democratic Engagement 

Jón Ólafsson (University of Iceland) 


Coffee Break 


RoundtableDemocratic Experiments and Democratic Control* 

Chair: Halla Gunnarsdóttir (Icelandic Confederation of Labour) 

Elfa Ýr Gylfadóttir (Icelandic Media Commission)Huginn Freyr Þorsteinsson (Aton.JL)Kristinn Þórisson (Reykjavík University), Róbert Bjarnason (Citizens Foundation), and Þorbjörg Sigríður Gunnlaugsdóttir (Viðreisn)

*in Icelandic