The Whitsun Dialogues: Digital Europe. No borders, no limits?

Source: http://www.pfingstdialog-steiermark.at/en/

In the beginning of June at the picturesque Seggau Castle in Austria over 400 experts, academics and professionals attended the “Geist & Gegenwart” Whitsun Dialogue to talk about digital Europe. Our partner organization “European Youth Award” was also invited within the scholarship programme.

The various presentations, panel discussions and workshops dealt with a broad range of topics and tried to address the most pressing questions of our times – how to deal with ethical, philosophical, democratic, economic, social… achievements in times of digitalization. Does the idea of a boundless society threaten our humanistic ideal? Can Europe compete with the American monopolistic private companies and how to loosen our dependency on them? Will we be able to use the countless opportunities digitalization and artificial intelligence offer us in a responsible way?

The prestigious event started on the first day, 5th of June, with interactive workshops for the scholars. As you can imagine a broad range of interdisciplinary and international exchange of experience and knowledge happened. My personal highlight was a presentation by the digital pioneer Tim Cole, who compared the big four (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) and their market dominating, seemingly endless power to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. His call for action included everybody, because “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem“.

The second day began with forums about Europe’s competitiveness and artificial intelligence, followed by workshops about current and future developments:

  • Mobility of the future
  • Digitalisation in healthcare
  • Security in a digital Europe
  • Information and manipulation in the democratic discourse
  • Culture and media – digital and analogue worlds
  • Transformation of job profiles and the economy
  • Digitalisation in production – killing jobs or safeguarding employment locations?
  • Trust in technology

Charlotte Stix, an expert on artificial intelligence, emphasised the necessity for ethical principles and a global perspective since AI and digitalisation know no national borders.

“The concept of Europe entails addressing and preserving fundamental rights and values. These should also influence the digitalisation of our world and the development of artificial intelligence (AI). If that happens, Europe can develop into a leading force: AI with people at the centre.”

Source: http://www.pfingstdialog-steiermark.at/en/charlotte-stix-01-2/

The evening was crowned by a interview of Peter Sloterdijk, who basically stated that we live in the “best of all times” and that people tend to confuse potential risks with real dangers. He gave valuable insights, but ended on a slightly controversial note at the end where he stated that the rising of anti-semitism was due to alarmism. In protest several people left the room. You could argue that his claim for the need of discussion and nowadays “non-willingness” to debate were proven to be right, but I also recommend to read the reaction by the Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine.

The last day was finished with keynote speeches about the ethics of the digital discourse (and by a last jump in to the pool at the hotel).

Overall my impression is mixed. While a „high-caliber interdisciplinary and international sharing of experience“ with „new insights and perspectives, knowledge“ was promised, I would have welcomed more diversity on the stage – especially with that topic in mind. The event was driven by a kind of technic and future pessimistic view, bearing a lot of fears and possible threats. Only a minority of the speakers shared an inspiring atmosphere when they focused on the chances, hopes and necessities.

You could see there was a big “digital divide” between the old and the young – or to be more accurate the “old worldviews” vs. the “new worldviews”. That is probably the reason why I enjoyed the first day the most where the students and young academics debated in interactive workshops.

Also the topic of ethics in digital era is crucial, the catholic church representing those values not so much. Again – a more diverse approach would have been much appreciated.

The event turned out to be a great networking opportunity though. We even got to meet the Regional Governor of Styria Hermann Schützenhofer:

The prestigious biennially event is hosted by the Styrian Government in cooperation with the Diocese Graz-Seckau and the Club Alpbach Styria.

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The Whitsun Dialogues: Digital Europe. No borders, no limits?
was published on 23.07.2019 by Sanja Cancar. It files under Europe
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