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From Citizens’ Assemblies to AI tools: ‘Debating Democracy’ with EUI students

The Young EUI Democracy Forum (YEDF) is currently organising a ‘Debating Democracy’ series which, as the name suggests, is focused on debating the values, tensions, and future challenges for democracy.

20 March 2024

democratic odyssey_shipslog

The following report draws on discussion from their first two events of 2023/24: the first on the possibilities and limitations of citizens’ assemblies as tools for democratic renewal, and the second on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on democratic development.

We are living in a global democratic crisis. Democracy has united people and led progress for decades. It has brought stability and growth on an unprecedented scale to millions around the world. But in the last few decades, our democratic system has faced major challenges mostly, due to the short-termism of political elites that has stretched social, political, and economic instability. As a result, people are feeling disillusioned and frustrated with their political institutions. This in turn has given rise to phenomena such as populism, polarisation, and the growth in support for extremist parties.

This democratic crisis lies in the electoral-representative system itself, which needs to be reformed constructively through new democratic practices that transcend the vertical axis of power, becoming more horizontal and bottom-up, thus allowing citizens to play a more active role in decision-making.

Citizens’ Assemblies are one potential solution to be explored, experimented with and implemented. Yet many questions still need to be answered. During our first event of the year, YEDF members raised several concerns with the proposal: will citizens be competent enough to decide on political issues, they asked? How can we solve the problem of information asymmetry? How do we ensure the participation of average people who have economic and social responsibilities and don’t have the luxury to spare their time?

These are just a few of the inputs that stimulated the conversation, and which will be picked up in future debates.

Artificial Intelligence: risks and opportunities for democratic renewal

Another factor which needs to be addressed in any discussion on contemporary democracy is the remarkable growth of AI technologies. For years we have carried Siri, or Alexa around in our pockets, asking these virtual assistants for any and all questions. Likewise, ask any student about ChatGPT and they will be able to list dozens of ways they’ve used the open AI software. In areas such as translation, coding or graphic design, AI tools have now become hard to avoid. This is a fascinating new development which presents many opportunities for society, but there are also risks involved as the technology becomes more widely deployed.

In our second event, we therefore confronted some deeper, structural issues around AI. How, for example, does AI function in authoritarian or transitioning countries? What about global and national inequalities and the digital divide? What about the educational purpose of AI and its influence on information streams? Through this discussion, the YEDF agreed that AI has a strong possibility for both elevating and damaging democratic development. If regulated, it offers a plethora of innovative solutions. If unregulated, it leaves space for hostile actors to manipulate and hinder democracy.

Here at the EUI, we are lucky to have a community of people from all over the world, with diverse backgrounds and different ambitions. All have incredibly insightful and valuable perspectives to add to conversations on the above and other topics. Ideas shape our visions, and visions shape our actions. As for the future, many other debates are yet to come, and we look forward to welcoming new dialogues, questions and ideas.

For more information about the YEDF, and to keep up to date with future events, keep an eye on the STG events page.


Christian Recchia and Amy Delis

Last update: 20 March 2024

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