Introduction to the Symposium “Technology for Peace and Democracy in the Age of Global Enlightenment”

Nov 6, 2022News

Francesco Lapenta, Ph.D., Director, John Cabot University’s Institute of Future and Innovation Studies

Rome, October 25, 2022

Rarely in human history have the high stakes of the relationships between technology, peace, democracy, and the future of Humanity and the planet been so clear. Or the relationships of the current interconnected crises with the technological choices of the past. The legacy of our modern technological history reverberates ominously today in the current crises, the concept of technological innovation as a form of perpetual competition, whether military, industrial, economic, or political, in which technological leadership and innovation are not viewed as a collective shared path toward the betterment of the human condition. But, as a permanent confrontation of ideologies, values, social and economic systems in constant competition or conflict, based not only on actual technological innovation and achievements, but also on the ability to direct and lead the future through technological and societal aspirations and goals.

Pragmatically, we cannot expect or even desire geopolitical competition to disappear, competition serving an important role in innovation and evolution. However history and nature have recently shown the high cost of various merely utilitarian choices in technological development that, although enormously socially transformative, have also contributed to a growing global social divide, rising economic inequality, the current climate crisis, an increasing number of health and social crises, and an unsustainable reliance on depletable and scarce resources for economic growth.

The history of technology also teaches us about the dynamic and complex relationship that has always existed between technological advancements and democratic principles and practices. Technology can be imagined and designed to be a tool for both private and public democratic participation. However when we look at even the most advanced democracies in the world, where new forms of corporate power and centralization, as well as changing forms of digital influence and surveillance, seem to undermine the very basis of fair and democratic participation, it becomes clear that the relationship between technology and democratic values and processes is never simple.

If democracies are to survive and win the battle against both authoritarian regimes and domestic challenges, they must be able to elaborate a future vision of the fair and democratic use of existing and emerging technologies. A future vision that views technological innovation’s sustainable development agenda as a necessary, collective, systemic effort to address what are increasingly seen as interconnected socioeconomic-ecological-geopolitical dynamics and global challenges. A vision and plan that can imagine how the world might change if technological evolution were driven and directed by a common vision of a future based on peace and the common good of the planet and humanity, even in the face of political and economic rivalry.