Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism

Jan 26, 2021
5:00 – 6:30 PM
(17:00) CET
Lecture Series
“Digital Superpowers and Geopolitics”

In Cyberspace, the modern “colonial powers” are not nations but multinational companies, mostly American but with strong competition emerging in China. These companies control the digital platforms central to most peoples’ social networks, communications, entertainment, and commerce and, through them, have collected and continue to collect limitless information about our friends, colleagues, preferences, opinions, and secrets. With the knowledge obtained by processing this information/data, these companies have built some of the world’s more profitable businesses, turning little pieces of information given to them by uninformed users in return for “free services”, into extremely valuable, targeted advertising. These companies, moreover, endeavor to operate in the space between countries, with very limited responsibility/ accountability to governments. At the same time, governments such as in China and the US have laws requiring such companies to divulge data obtained from their customers anywhere in the world. Does this pose a threat to national or European sovereignty?
This panel will endeavor to appraise the current situation, assess the potential impact of actions already initiated as well as explore new ones.

Panelists: June Lowery-Kingston (European Commission), Jan-Hendrik Passoth (ENS / Viadrina, Germany), Michael Veale (University College London, UK)
Moderator: James Larus (EPFL, Switzerland)
Feb 2, 2021
5:00 – 6:00 PM
(17:00) CET
Lecture Series
“Freedom of Expression in the Digital Public Sphere”

A substantial portion of contemporary public discourse takes place over online social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. Accordingly, these platforms form a core component of the digital public sphere, which, although subject to private ownership, constitute a digital infrastructural resource that is open to members of the public.

The content moderation systems deployed by such platforms have the potential to influence and shape public discourse by mediating what members of the public are able to see, hear, and say online. Over time, these rules may have a norm-setting effect, shaping the conduct and expectations of users as to what constitutes “acceptable” discourse. Thus, the design and implementation of content moderation systems can have a powerful impact on the preservation of users’ freedom of expression. The emerging trend towards the deployment of algorithmic content moderation (ACM) systems gives rise to urgent concerns on the need to ensure that content moderation is regulated in a manner that safeguards and fosters robust public discourse.

This lecture develops upon the research carried out within the framework of the Research Sprint on AI and Platform Governance (2020) organized by the HIIG, Berlin (for more information on the research project and its key findings see, Freedom of Expression in the Digital Public Sphere ( It explores how the proliferation of ACM poses increased risks for safeguarding the freedom of expression in the digital public sphere and proposes legal and regulatory strategies for ensuring greater public oversight and accountability in the design and implementation of content moderation systems by social media platforms.

Speaker: Sunimal Mendis (Tilburg University, The Netherlands)
Respondent: Christiane Wendehorst (University of Vienna, Austria)
Moderator: Erich Prem (eutema & TU Wien, Austria)

Digital Humanism

The Corona-Crisis shows that IT keeps the system running. But at the same time IT is changing our society. We are in the midst of the digital transformation, with computer science and its artifacts as a major driver. We experienced the metamorphosis from the stand-alone computer to the global operating system of our world, a journey leading to yet another industrial revolution: digitizing everything and automating work and thinking.

This digital and global operating system integrates, links, and permeates everything: work, leisure, politics, the personal, the professional, and the private. It influences or even shapes actions on a technical, economic, military and political level.

Whereas digitalization is opening unprecedented opportunities, it also raising serious concerns: the monopolization of the Web, the rise of extremism orchestrated by social media, the formation of filter bubbles, the loss of privacy, the spread of digital surveillance, automated decision making, and the potential loss of jobs due to automation. This is also expressed by Tim Berners-Lee (The Guardian, 16 November 2017) with his

“The system is failing”

We are at a crossroads for our future, and the issue is which direction to take, or in positive terms, how to put the human at the center and how to combine technological with social innovation in a democratic process.

This is the context of our Digital Humanism initiative. We argue for a Digital Humanism that analyzes, and, most importantly, influences the complex interplay of technology and humankind, for a better society and life, fully respecting universal human rights. We must shape technologies in accordance with human values and needs. Our task is not only to rein in the downsides, but also to encourage human-centered innovation.

Such an approach starts from several key points:

  • IT forms a critical building block for our society; it facilitates and drives change, but it also needs rules and guidance.
  • To understand, to reflect, and to influence this development, we need a multi and interdisciplinary approach, looking at the individual and the society.
  • It is a global international issue.
  • The approach needs to be scientific, in the tradition of the enlightenment – and fact based in the best sense.
  • People are the central focus. Technology is for people and not the other way round. We need to put “humankind” at the center of our work.

The challenge of building a just and democratic society with humans at the center of technological progress needs to be addressed. The Digital Humanism initiative is supported by a growing group of internationally renowned experts. They are engaged in a series of (on- and offline) events, pointing towards a positive future!

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