Promotion of Democracy in the Age of AI by the U.S. Embassy in Vienna

More+Events ♦ Published: January 22, 2024; 17:08 ♦ (Vindobona)

The U.S. Embassy in Austria, in cooperation with the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs (BMEIA), recently hosted renowned AI ethics and policy expert Merve Hickok for an important dialog on global challenges. This initiative is part of the "U.S.-Austria Citizen Dialogue on Global Challenges".

Merve Hickok, AI ethics and politics expert, opened the discourse by emphasizing that the promotion of democracy is essential in the AI age. / Picture: © © TU Wien Informatics/Amélie Chapalain

In a historic year for global democracies, with over four billion people voting worldwide, the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) is in the spotlight. On January 16, 2024, the Vienna University of Technology invited political decision-makers, scientists, students, and citizens to a discussion on the role of AI in democratic nations. The event, titled "Fostering Democracy in the Age of AI", is part of the new U.S.-Austria Citizen Dialogue, an initiative of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in Austria.

Merve Hickok, a recognized expert in the field of AI ethics and policy, was the keynote speaker at the event. Her expertise lies in the societal impact of AI, particularly in areas relating to fundamental rights, democratic values, and social justice. The event provided a platform for Hickok to lead a series of keynote speeches in Vienna and Linz, hold discussions with local civil society and government leaders, and participate in various media interviews. These interactions fostered extensive dialogues on the integration of AI technology and ethics, underscoring both countries' commitment to transparent and collaborative expert discourse.

Peter Ertl, Vice Rector of TU Wien, and Gerti Kappel, Dean of TU Wien Informatics, emphasized the university's commitment to democratic values in AI research and development. Ambassador Christoph Thun-Hohenstein from the BMEIA and US Ambassador Victoria Reggie Kennedy also emphasized the importance of international cooperation on AI challenges. The discussion was moderated by Christiane Wendehorst, Co-Head of the Department of Innovation and Digitalization in Law at the University of Vienna.

AI expert Peter Knees addressed the "uncivilized" use of AI, particularly in the context of disinformation and fraud, and the resulting risks for democracies. He emphasized the need for digital competence and strong media pluralism. All panellists agreed that the erosion of trust is one of the greatest threats to democracies. Hickok and Knees spoke out in favor of investing in digital education and public internet platforms. Regulatory measures could help to define limits and safety standards for AI.

This event provided a unique opportunity for students, faculty, and the community to engage in a critical conversation about the intersection of artificial intelligence and democratic processes.

Influential expert in the field of AI

Merve Hickok, founder of and President and Research Director of the Center for AI & Digital Policy (CAIDP), is a globally recognized expert in the field of AI policy, ethics, and governance. Her work focuses on the impact of AI systems on individuals and society, particularly concerning fundamental rights, democratic values, and social justice.

Hickok has had a significant impact on shaping AI policy. She has advised and testified before the US Congress, various city councils, and international organizations such as the European Commission and UNESCO. Her contributions have been featured in numerous prestigious media outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN. Hickok is also a lecturer in data ethics at the University of Michigan and a consultant at the Michigan Institute for Data Science.

Hickok is a member of several advisory committees and working groups, including the Women in AI Ethics Collective and the ForHumanity Center. She has received numerous awards for her contributions, including the Lifetime Achievement Award - Women in AI of the Year 2023.

Contribution to the dialog in Vienna and Linz

During her stay in Vienna and Linz, Hickok led fundamental discussions and participated in various media interviews. Her interactions aimed to promote comprehensive dialogues on the integration of AI technology and ethics and to emphasize both countries' commitment to a transparent and collaborative expert discourse.

Hickok emphasized the importance of public engagement and citizen participation in dealing with AI. She encouraged people to become active and stand up for digital rights. The CAIDP's "AI and Democratic Values Index", which analyzes the AI policies of 75 countries, was cited as an example of such efforts.

TU Wien is at the forefront of the "Digital Humanism" initiative, which is committed to the development of digital technologies and policies based on human rights and democracy. Peter Knees concluded by emphasizing that democracy needs resources not only to survive but to thrive. This groundbreaking event highlights the crucial role of AI in today's society and emphasizes the need to develop and use technology in line with democratic values.

The event in Vienna marks the beginning of a series of discussions designed to strengthen transatlantic cooperation in addressing global challenges. These efforts reflect the growing interest and need to promote and protect ethical and democratic values in the age of AI.

U.S. Embassy Vienna

CAIDP - Center for AI and Digital Policy

TU Vienna