The ERSTE Foundation Tipping Point Talks 2019

How can we help turn the European Union into a global technology governance power? Why will norms and standards be the silver bullet of tomorrow’s EU in the world? How can we guarantee that fundamental and human rights are observed throughout digital space, and how can we make artificial intelligence democracy’s best friend?

Future-proof values

What is humanly possible in this new era of modernity

Christoph Thun-Hohenstein

General Director MAK – Museum of Applied Arts


We are living in the second decade of a new era of modernity; one that started when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in January 2007. This mobile turn, brought on by the overwhelming success of the smartphone, has not only completely changed the way billions of people live and work – it is fuelling the advance of artificial intelligence, i.e. automated decision-making.

Digital giants now continuously measure our physical and cognitive movements and market them with extreme effectiveness. As if riding in a driverless car, our civilisation is mindlessly headed for a commercially optimised, automated future in which human trust will be replaced by digital manipulation. Virtual space has become a low-trust zone, or even a no-trust zone, and has infected society in the non-virtual space as well.

Do we really want to continue on this road and place ourselves at the mercy of this automated future? Instead, let’s make an effort to help actively shape our future and create options other than the ones available by default.

Of the world’s large economic areas, EU Europe – with a newly elected European Parliament and a new European Commission – now has the tremendous opportunity to develop a future model of digital modernity that is trustworthy and humanistic: a democratic high-trust society in both the virtual and non-virtual space that is firmly committed to tackling the two major challenges of climate care and social sustainability with the help of innovative technology. And with the help of sovereign citizens who are well informed and know how to act wisely.

For this kind of future to become reality, we need sustainable values. The VIENNA BIENNALE FOR CHANGE 2019 aimed to encourage and inspire the urgently needed conversation on values through a variety of projects in art, design and architecture. This year, a specialised workshop with digital experts and a panel discussion with Marietje Schaake hosted in our museum were among the highlights of MAK’s cooperation with ERSTE Foundation. In her talk, Marietje Schaake called for a confident European technology governance that champions the power of law instead of the law of power.

The Tipping Point Talks 2019

#3 – Possibility, 19 September 2019

Marietje Schaake

Power of law or law of power? Why we need European leadership in governing technology globally


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Artistic intervention by Rupert Huber

Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, MAK – Museum of Applied Arts
Boris Marte, ERSTE Foundation

Marietje Schaake: Power of law, or law of power? Why we need European leadership in governing technology globally

Conversation on stage
Lucy Bernholz, Stanford University
Joanna Goodey, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights
Krzysztof Izdebski, ePaństwo Foundation
Thomas Lohninger, epicenter.works
Marietje Schaake, Stanford University
Chair: Verena Ringler, Curator of the Tipping Point Talks 2019

Đorđe Krivokapić and Michael Oghia


Making digital technology democracy’s best friend

30 Central European civic tech players outline EU Governance in digital space


Over the past two decades, we have witnessed an unprecedented transformation in how technology shapes societies around the world. Rapid developments in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), information technology, and cyberwarfare continue to destabilise global politics and pose new threats to the post-World War II system of international cooperation. Moreover, technological evolution is facilitating a growing distance between generations, especially in the ways we learn, start our businesses, and elect our representatives. No longer have tools and technological advancement merely made our lives easier, but they have altered the very way we think and deliberate.

Historically, we have coped with the innate human disorder by our countervailing trait – that is to organise and regulate, conceding our private interests to the common good. In the age of ‘platformisation’, the dominance of big tech, and the sheer power their digital empires hold both offline and online in contemporary society, however, such hyper-accelerated changes question whether they have ushered in a new era dominated by the law of power or the power of law. Consequently, they also create new challenges for governance, as myriad urgent and existential risks, from climate change to coordinated disinformation campaigns, depend on global collaboration to be effectively solved.

With this reality in mind, it is imperative that the European Union establish itself as a global technology governance power – one based on respected norms and legitimised standards –while also guaranteeing that fundamental human rights are observed throughout digital spaces in order to strengthen and safeguard democracy.

Recognising key opportunities to facilitate dialogue on the pathways to realising this as a new cohort of policy shapers and decision-makers take up their roles and responsibilities in EU institutions in Brussels, ERSTE Foundation convenes an action-based strategy seminar co-chaired by Marietje Schaake and Verena Ringler at the MAK – Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna on Thursday, 19 September 2019.


The European Union as a superpower of norms and standards

Vienna happens to be a great location to start and possible continue a European East-West civic tech dialogue. As a recent study by the European Council on Foreign Relations demonstrates, there is a considerable gap between Austria’s ‘wealth of influence’ as perceived by other EU members in its region and practical use of this potential. Moreover, there is a mismatch between the country’s rating of its own commitment to a deeper European integration and the actual performance. Facilitating discussions like these is by all means a step in a positive direction.

Prior to Marietje’s lecture on the topic, the seminar highlights why European leadership is critical to governing technology globally. The Vienna seminar brings together 30 activists, researchers, experts, and public sector representatives from the larger field of technology governance across Europe. Recognising and acknowledging the myriad challenges and pitfalls ahead, the seminar highlights why European leadership is critical to governing technology globally. The conversation precedes Marietje Schaake’s evening lecture on the topic.

Participants are tasked with formulating the challenge for the European Commission and to devise key elements for the EU’s governance within the digital space through a structured yet informal and frank conversation. The experts and activists also focus on the long-term implications and necessities of EU governance within the ever-expanding ecosystem of digital technology as well as on linking up questions of ethics with digital policy considerations, especially within the context of human rights, shrinking civic spaces, the rule of law, and the EU’s global role and ensuing foreign policy.


EU tech policy and the fourth generation of human rights

Participants recognise that the digital space is in effect a social habitat, influenced by so much more than just market dynamics. However, there is an active discussion on how to reframe our supranational regulatory ambitions along the lines of fundamental human rights and social interests. It is surprising that some of those present think of the lack of regulation as a viable solution.

Many argue that the European public discussion about the nexus of technology and fundamental rights remains far too narrow. Besides the usual core themes, such as privacy and data protection as well as equality and non-discrimination, participants in Vienna recognise that all human rights are endangered by technology. Some voices urge that we need to acknowledge that the entire Charter of Fundamental Rights is applicable in the digital sphere.

It is concluded that we need all the help we can get in securing clarity on how our fundamental rights apply to the new technologies. That should be the basis for developing the ‘fourth generation of human rights’ needed for the fourth industrial revolution.

The atmosphere demonstrates that there is a mutual sense of momentum for forging a unique European direction vis-à-vis tech regulation, especially one based on the values the EU cherishes most. This could become the substance of Europe’s foreign policy agenda as a central node that connects all key global challenges, including:

● Environmental sustainability (e.g. the exponentially increasing energy demands of data processing);
● Democracy (e.g. the fracturing of politics and institutions by the lack of common meaning and shared goals);
● The future of jobs (e.g. automation as a disruptor of quality and the meaning of labour);
● Global public health (e.g. understanding the spread of infectious diseases via new advances in AI); and
● Inequality (e.g. the kind and quality of technology for those with and those without).

The discussion also concludes that exercising one’s fundamental rights in a digital sphere requires new skills in order to achieve digital inclusion and access to information. Many claim that the first step is to build these skills within the policymaking, administrative, and procurement community. Additionally, digital literacy skill-building within the general population for specific competencies within the media or judiciary should be a matter of robust and holistic policies that include financial support and cross-sectoral expertise.

Citizens of candidate countries not protected by EU data law

It is clear that the European Union is in a unique position to lead the way. As the GDPR exemplifies in the extensive debate that preceded it and the range of actors involved in its creation, the EU holds powerful leverage – the sheer size of its unified market – to set high standards and enforce them across borders. The major technology companies are already paying fines and suffer reputational consequences for not conforming to the new norms, for instance.

The discussion also considers several other areas in need of regulatory intervention. Considering the network effect and the tendency towards market concentration by big tech platforms in the digital economy, it is recognised that competition policy will have to play a more important role in the context of creating and capturing value. Existing frameworks need to be adapted to provide for competitive and contestable markets in the digital era. Instead of relying on measuring harm to consumers through prices, anti-trust regulations should also consider privacy and data protection, consumer choice, market structure, switching costs, and lock-in effects, with appropriate competition policies enforced regionally or globally.

It is obvious to the group that the EU is essential as an interlocutor with digital technology companies such as Google and Facebook. It is in a far better position to negotiate and enforce than the member states. Big platforms like Google and Facebook do not have government interlocutors in all countries, and often do not have staff that speaks the national language. We need the EU and its member states to strike an effective balance between regulating the digital space to protect democratic principles and consumers on the one hand, and safeguarding fundamental freedoms and allowing for sufficient room for innovation on the other.

Citizens of candidate countries are left unprotected, entering into agreements with U.S.-based companies, not their EU subsidiaries usually based in Ireland. Internet giants have no physical presence in those countries, depriving citizens of consumer and data protection enforced elsewhere in the EU.


The media community should have a say in internet governance

The seminar also highlights the importance of media plurality as well as the steps the EU can take to promote it. Participants suggest that non-profit journalism should be able to register as a charity and receive the benefits of such registration. There is a need for expert opinions in dealing with issues impacting media freedom as it relates to media sustainability, journalism safety, the Right to be Forgotten and its relationship to press freedom, and disinformation and misinformation.

Voices representing public interest media and the wider media community should be included in discussions about internet governance, especially when it comes to issues related to freedom of expression, access to information and digital inclusion as well as sustainability and economic viability. At present, decisions and policies made do not necessarily consider the interests of journalism and media organisations, especially those from underdeveloped regions. We should recognise the importance and role of public interest media as well as the negative effects of digital convergence on their business model and the subsequent implications for their role in society.

Vienna participants highlight that the problem of content moderation is especially important considering that media capture and the authoritarian nature in some countries, particularly in the Western Balkans, mean that social networks are often the only free space for information sharing and debate. Online propaganda, extremism, disinformation, and nationalism are flooding the narrative on social networks, which is undermining the rule of law and trust in institutions and among citizens, endangering the very fabric upon which democracy and the integrity of elected officials rest.


Calls for transparency and accountability for tech in EU

Next, an extensive debate takes place around automated decision-making, a system that uses automated reasoning to aid or replace a process that would otherwise be performed by humans. It is evident that we not only have to discuss the challenges but also come up with solutions on how to regulate this sphere. The topic of debate is balanced between legal approaches and the development and acceptance of ethical guidelines that should promote trustworthy AI systems. Furthermore, we need to find a way to promote and protect fundamental rights in the context of AI along with principles leading to several requirements for trustworthy AI systems: human agency and oversight, robustness, safety, privacy, transparency, non-discrimination, environmental and societal well-being, and accountability.

The lively exchange of views on this topic expresses a need for a framework that would make both data and AI work for society, not just for commercial interests. The EU has the power to demand that major companies in the field share raw data provided by their users with competitors or, in another model, share knowledge they generate with the use of AI with public institutions, to help develop public services.

New digital risks threatening human rights and the growing creation of tools of control and manipulation can be traced back to both the state and the corporate sector. These transformations require an adequate response by European civil society organisations that typically rely on limited resources, experience, and expertise in these technologically sensitive issues.

Participants recognise the significance of bringing social scientists, ethicists, lawyers, and activists back to the table with the techies and start-ups that underpin the digital ecosystem and drive innovation. Yet, many also emphasise that digital rights organisations in Europe are still seriously underfunded and do not possess the capacity needed to engage in a more sustained advocacy within national and EU-level policymaking. To continue to be at the forefront of public interest advocacy, they would require much more support from independent sources.


Legal and tech infrastructures a priority in the EU

In the final brainstorming session, participants have the opportunity to set a priority for the medium (2024) and the long term (2050), and to then select common priorities.

The number one priority selected for the year 2024 refers to establishing the accountability of contemporary technological solutions. This priority aim is supported by similar proposals requiring an instant reaction to technological impacts such as the development of a template for consumer friendly explanations of automated decision-making systems, the introduction of impact assessments in relation to the implementation of technology and algorithms in the public sector, and the development of digital skills focusing on the impact of technology on society.

For the year 2050, participants argue that the most important European priority should be the creation of legal and tech infrastructure (e.g. a public databank) that will move data from private companies to the ‘Public Domain’. However, the discussion on this time horizon engenders a whole list of proposals by participants. Their ideas are meant to enable deeper changes in the interplay of European Union and national politics, societies, and the economy.


The Tipping Point Talks 2019

Cover picture: Exhibition View at MAK-Exhibition Hall, UNCANNY VALUES: Artificial Intelligence & You, Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea E. Manning, Probably Chelsea, 2017, Photo: © Aslan Kudrnofsky / MAK – Museum of Applied Arts


Florian Bauer

Director Social Finance, Sustainability and Innovation
Since 2023, Florian Bauer has been responsible for social finance, sustainability and social innovation at ERSTE Foundation. Prior to this role, Florian worked in the NGO & Social Entrepreneurship sector for more than 13 years. He led the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), an international multilateral NGO that works to accelerate market-based deployment of renewable energy and energy efficient systems in developing countries, and was Managing Director & COO of the Impact Hub Vienna. From 2020-2023, Florian established strategic alliances with key partners and helped to create innovative semantic technology solutions at Semantic Web Company (SWC), a leading IT company in semantic AI solutions.