Prof. Mireille Hildebrandt delivers a keynote on 'Is Democracy Computable?' (25 March 2021)
March 18, 2021
The 'Democracy in a digital future' international conference on 25-26 March 2021 will bring together experts, academics and political representatives to address the role of government and public policy in upholding democratic, rule-of-law procedures and human rights amidst technological developments.
Prof. Mireille Hildebrandt will deliver a keynote on Is Democracy Computable?:
Some may indignantly or dismissively exclaim that – of course – democracy is not computable, whereas others may shrug their shoulders and point to a long tradition of research into voting (e.g. Arrow’s theorem), showing that calculation and computation have a longstanding history of being applied to aggregate political opinion. My question, however, is not whether – theoretically - democracy can be computed but rather whether democracy would survive if we were to make democratic practice dependent on data-driven computation. To answer this question, I will tap into the notion of the ‘normative force of the factual’ as put forward by the German legal philosopher Jellinek, pitting ‘is’ against ‘ought’ while acknowledging that what is at stake in a democracy is how the ‘ought’ informs the ‘is’. I will argue that data-driven prediction cannot ever do more than scale a version of the past and may thus freeze our future. I will also argue that a better understanding of the research design of data-driven systems will liberate us from their normative force and help us to face and to address the choices we need to make.