Vienna Workshop on Digital Humanism

We are in the midst of the digital transformation of our society, with Computer Science and its artifacts as a major driver of change. 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 this development opens enormous possibilities for our future, it also raises serious questions and has dramatic downsides, just think at the monopolies in the Web, or the use of the Internet for surveillance. This is also expressed by Tim Berners-Lee (The Guardian, 16 November 2017) with his 

“The system is failing”

We are at a crossroad 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 Workshop on Digital Humanism.

With this term we want to refer to the era of the Renaissance, not only to make the digital world and development more “human”, but also to initiate a broad approach integrating different disciplines for new scientific insights, discussions, and spreading of critical thoughts and knowledge. Such an approach starts from several key points:

  1. ICT forms a critical building block for our society; it facilitates and drives change, but it also needs rules and guidance. 
  2. To understand, to reflect, and to influence this development, we need a multi and interdisciplinary approach, looking at the individual and the society. 
  3. It is a global international issue.
  4. The approach needs to be scientific, in the tradition of the enlightenment – and fact based in the best sense. 
  5. 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 format of the workshop will be very interactive, we invite all the participants to an active discussion. 

Vienna Workshop on Digital Humanism

April 4th and 5th, 2019

Organized by

Faculty of Informatics – TU Wien
Municipal Department 23 – Economic Affairs, Labour and Statistics
WWTF – Vienna Science and Technology Fund



Day 1 – Thursday, April 4th

8:30-9:00 – Registration

9:00-9:15 – Welcome

9:15-13:00 – Session: History and Impact of Information Technology

William Aspray (University of Colorado Boulder, USA) – “The Importance of Scrutiny to Digital Humanism”

In this era of fake facts, when the “will to power” is trumping the “will to knowledge” (as Nietzsche described them), scrutiny is a critical concept for the success of digital humanism. This talk draws on two recently completed, but not yet published books with James Cortada: Before Fake News: The Long History of Lies and Misrepresentations in American Public Life and From Urban Legends to Political Fact-Checking: Online Scrutiny 1990-2015 and its Antecedents. The talk is two-thirds historical and one-third philosophical, covering a wide range of topics including the social epistemology of facts, the rise of data-driven governance, Progressive political thinking, the role of magicians in the rise of scrutiny, professionalization of fact- checking in the media industries, the reinforcing effect of natural and social science on Enlightenment goals, the cultural meaning of urban legends, the function of conspiracy theories, and the introduction of computing technology and for-profit business models in political fact-checking.

Marco Aiello (University of Stuttgart, Germany) – “The Implications of a Web Done by Amateurs”

In 2012, Turing Award computer scientist Alan Kay released an interview in which he stated: ‘‘the Internet was done so well that most people think of it as a natural resource like the Pacific Ocean, rather than something that was man-made. […] The Web, in comparison, is a joke. The Web was done by amateurs.’’ By looking at the history and present state of the Web, I will bring arguments to prove or refute Kay’s statement. Questions like: “How did the Web come about? Who are the heroes behind it? How did it evolve to what it is today?” will be addressed. The material is based on the book “The Web Was Done by Amateurs” published in June 2018 by Springer-Nature.

Allison Stanger (Middlebury College, USA) – “Consumers vs. Citizens: Freedom and Democracy’s Public Square in a Big Data World”

Globalization and the Internet have transformed the relationship between the public and private sectors. The monetization of personal data has produced a series of conflicts between our desires as consumers and our duties as citizens, which combine to create a moral vacuum that has become a subversive undercurrent in democracy. I deploy classic texts in political philosophy to illuminate the unintended consequences of technological innovation. When truth and the free exchange of ideas are under assault from ideologues on both left and right, understanding the new threats of the digital age is critical for sustaining liberal democracy. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition, computer scientists who “think what they are doing” can be a vital force for freedom in polarized times.

Hans Akkermans (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands) – “The Internet as a Global Commons and the Design of TechnoSociality”

There is widespread agreement that something is wrong with “the Internet” such that it is now far from original ideals of democracy and equality in communication and knowledge sharing. Some attribute this sorry state to naive (“hippie”) underlying notions of unfettered digital freedom gone wrong. This idea goes back to Hardin’s well-known article “The Tragedy of the Commons” published in (note: the hippie year) 1968. I argue that indeed the Internet is usefully viewed as a Commons. Vast recent literature on the Commons has however disproved Hardin’s views both theoretically and empirically. It has produced a set of Design Principles for successful Commons governance arrangements that are also highly relevant to the Internet.

Moderator: Edward A. Lee (UC Berkeley, USA)

13:00-14:00 – Lunch

14:00-18:00 – Session: Humans and Society, AI and Ethics

Mirjam de Bruijn (Leiden University, The Netherlands) – “The Digital Empire and Ways of Mobile Telephony in Africa”

The rapid growth of mobile telephony and with it social media in Africa has been hailed as a revolution. In circles of ICT4D or M4D the democratising aspect, the progress in development that this ‘new’ technology would bring was at the centre of debate. However as with all technology the way the technology has been appropriated has known diverse paths. In this talk I will discuss the various socio-political ‘outcomes’ of the mobile phone appropriation in societies in West and Central Africa. The mobile phone has proven to be a mediatising technology that has been adopted in mobile communities, has mediated a new political agency of people, and in recent times has been central in information flows guiding choices of people in conflict areas. The talk is a reflection on the research that I have been doing since 2006 in West and Central Africa on the advancement of mobile telephony. (see:;

Moshe Y. Vardi (Rice University, USA) – “The Next Revolution of Work: Any Lessons Learned?”

Automation, driven by technological progress, has been increasing inexorably for the past several decades. Two schools of economic thinking have for many years been engaged in a debate about the potential effects of automation on jobs: will new technology spawn mass unemployment, as the robots take jobs away from humans? Or will the jobs robots take over create demand for new human jobs? Fears that robots will take away jobs from people have dominated the discussion over the future of work future. But this focus on job loss is too narrow, as work is constantly reshaped by technological progress. I’ll argue that the right lense through which to consider the impact of robots and automation is through their impact on society. I will present data that demonstrate that the concerns about automation are valid. In fact, technology has been hurting working- class people for the past 40 years. What can we learn from the far and recent history of automation?

Guglielmo Tamburrini (University of Naples, Italy) – “Increasing Machine Autonomy and the Protection of Human Autonomy: Ethical Issues and Policies”

The rise of increasingly autonomous AI and robotic systems is bringing about a variety of novel and impending ethical issues. These issues notably include the development of appropriate ethical policies for autonomous systems controllers; the preservation of human accountability and responsibility; human interpretability of autonomous machine decisions and actions; and, last but not least, whether certain forms of machine autonomy are morally acceptable. Increasingly autonomous vehicles, weapons systems, and surgical robots are used here as exemplary cases to discuss these issues and the aggregate problem of protecting human autonomy in relation to machine operational autonomy.

Jim Larus (EPFL, Switzerland) – “Regulating Artificial Intelligence? Reflecting on Several International Recommendations”

Should we regulate AI? How should we regulate AI? Who will regulate AI? The Chinese, Americans, Europeans, or all them? Does it even make sense to talk about regulating AI? All of these are timely questions that do not have clear answers. In this talk, I will attempt to untangle the issues from the starting point of several recent international recommendations for regulation or oversight of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Moderator: Hilda Tellioğlu (TU Wien, Austria)

19:00-22:00 – Social Dinner @ Zwölf Apostel Keller (Sonnenfelsgasse 3, 1010 Wien  / on the map)

Day 2 – Friday, April 5th

9:00-13:00 – Session: Dynamics of a New World – Issues and Answers

Helga Nowotny (Chair of the ERA Council Forum Austria and Former President of the ERC, Austria) – “Imagining Our Digital Future - How Human Will It Be?”

The future remains uncertain but humans persist in their efforts to predict it. The recent convergence of computer power, big data and a new generation of algorithms have considerably expanded the reach of predictions. Yet, with the digital transformation of societies fully under way, sweeping across many domains, sectors and everyday life, uncertainties remain that are met in different ways by imagining our digital future. They elicit controversial public debates relating to Industry 4.0 and the future of work; the pervasiveness of the Internet and social media; the use and misuse of Big Data – all bring new opportunities but also reveal the unintended consequences of human action. Are we sufficiently prepared for our digital future and which role is played by imaginaries in future- making projects? How human our digital future will be depends on the interfaces between humans and machines that we construct and how we redefine what it means to be human.

Nikolaus Forgó (University of Vienna, Austria) – “Internet Law in a Global Context”

This talk will give an overview on recent attempts to regulate technological developments, in particular on the internet, via legal means. Specific attention will be attributed to issues of data protection and data security from a European perspective with some further analysis of GDPR and e-privacy regulation.

Geoffrey G. Parker (Dartmouth College, USA) – “The Transformative Powers of Platform Economies”

Ecosystems and platforms have emerged as important phenomena that are changing the nature of work and production.  Familiar names such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Uber have transformed their industries. These companies have linked previously separate sectors of the economy and created broad-ranging networks of firms that both collaborate and compete to add value, changing the nature of competition as well as the nature of the firms and the work that their employees now do. The emergence of platform ecosystems raises a number of important questions. What are the implications for traditional industries? What adaptations might firms adopt? And, importantly, what are the likely regulations that will surround the data that powers platform ecosystems; will data be viewed as platform or user property? This talk will explore some of these issues using a number of examples and illustrations.

Manfred Hauswirth (TU Berlin, Germany) – “Fostering Local Excellence in a Global Context”

The Internet as one of the central human artefacts of the 21st century requires 2 things from science in Europe: (1) think globally in research, both geographically but even more so when it comes to collaborating among scientific disciplines, and (2) build local excellence of significant “weight” to be seen as a relevant player among global competitors. Europe with its long-standing background in the humanities is uniquely positioned for investigating the Internet holistically as a socio-econonomic-technical construct where each of the areas drives/enables, but also is driven/enabled by the other areas. In this talk I will showcase initiatives we have taken to achieve these goals in Berlin and will report on some of the experiences and learnings we went through on our journey to successful funding for cross- and interdisciplinary research.

Moderator: Carlo Ghezzi (Politecnico di Milano, Italy)

13:00-14:00 – Lunch

14:00-16:00 – Panel: Lessons for the Future and Possible Next Steps

Panelists: Carlo Ghezzi, Edward A. Lee, Helga Nowotny, Hilda Tellioğlu

Moderator: Hannes Werthner (TU Wien, Austria)

16:30-17:30 – Wrap-Up of the Workshop and Discussion of a Vienna Declaration on Digital Humanism

Moshe Y. Vardi, Hannes Werthner


Favoritenstraße 9-11, 1040 Wien, Austria
Lecture hall FAV Hörsaal 1 (ground floor)