Skip to main content

Open Access 2022 | Open Access | Book

Perspectives on Digital Humanism


About this book

This open access book aims to set an agenda for research and action in the field of Digital Humanism through short essays written by selected thinkers from a variety of disciplines, including computer science, philosophy, education, law, economics, history, anthropology, political science, and sociology. This initiative emerged from the Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism and the associated lecture series.

Digital Humanism deals with the complex relationships between people and machines in digital times. It acknowledges the potential of information technology. At the same time, it points to societal threats such as privacy violations and ethical concerns around artificial intelligence, automation and loss of jobs, ongoing monopolization on the Web, and sovereignty. Digital Humanism aims to address these topics with a sense of urgency but with a constructive mindset. The book argues for a Digital Humanism that analyses and, most importantly, influences the complex interplay of technology and humankind toward a better society and life while fully respecting universal human rights. It is a call to shaping technologies in accordance with human values and needs.

Table of Contents

Correction to: Did You Find It on the Internet? Ethical Complexities of Search Engine Rankings

The original version of the chapter was inadvertently published with an error. The affiliation of the author Cansu Canca has now been corrected to “AI Ethics Lab, Cambridge, MA, USA”.

Cansu Canca

Artificial Intelligence, Humans, and Control


Open Access

Are We Losing Control?

This chapter challenges the predominant assumption that humans shape technology using top-down, intelligent design, suggesting that technology should instead be viewed as the result of a Darwinian evolutionary process where humans are the agents of mutation. Consequently, we humans have much less control than we think over the outcomes of technology development.

Edward A. Lee

Open Access

Social Robots: Their History and What They Can Do for Us

From antiquity to today, some scientists, writers, and artists are passionate about representing humans not only as beautiful statues but as automatons that can perform actions. Already in ancient Greece, we can find some examples of automatons that replaced servants. In this chapter, we go through the development of automatons until the social robots of today. We describe two examples of social robots, EVA and Nadine, that we have been working with. We present two case studies, one in an insurance company and the other one in an elderly home. We also mention the limits of the use of social robots, their dangers, and the importance to control their actions through ethical committees.

Nadia Magnenat Thalmann

Open Access

Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

A long tradition in philosophy and economics equates intelligence with the ability to act rationally—that is, to choose actions that can be expected to achieve one’s objectives. This framework is so pervasive within AI that it would be reasonable to call it the standard model. A great deal of progress on reasoning, planning, and decision-making, as well as perception and learning, has occurred within the standard model. Unfortunately, the standard model is unworkable as a foundation for further progress because it is seldom possible to specify objectives completely and correctly in the real world. The chapter proposes a new model for AI development in which the machine’s uncertainty about the true objective leads to qualitatively new modes of behavior that are more robust, controllable, and deferential to humans.

Stuart Russell

Open Access

The Challenge of Human Dignity in the Era of Autonomous Systems

Autonomous systems make decisions independently or on behalf of the user. This will happen more and more in the future, with the widespread use of AI technologies in the fabric of the society that impacts on the social, economic, and political sphere. Automating services and processes inevitably impacts on the users’ prerogatives and puts at danger their autonomy and privacy. From a societal point of view, it is crucial to understand which is the space of autonomy that a system can exercise without compromising laws and human rights. Following the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies 2018 recommendation, the chapter addresses the problem of preserving the value of human dignity in the context of the digital society, understood as the recognition that a person is worthy of respect in her interaction with autonomous technologies. A person must be able to exercise control on information about herself and on the decisions that autonomous systems make on her behalf.

Paola Inverardi

Participation and Democracy


Open Access

The Real Cost of Surveillance Capitalism: Digital Humanism in the United States and Europe

Shoshana Zuboff’s international best seller, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the Frontier of Power, has rightfully alarmed citizens of free societies about the uses and misuses of their personal data. Yet the concept of surveillance capitalism, from a global perspective, ultimately obscures more than it reveals. The real threat to liberal democracies is not capitalism but the growing inequalities that corporate surveillance in its unfettered form both reveals and exacerbates. By unclearly specifying the causal mechanisms of the very real negative costs she identifies, Zuboff creates the impression that capitalism itself is the culprit, when the real source of the problem is the absence of good governance.

Allison Stanger

Open Access

Democratic Discourse in the Digital Public Sphere: Re-imagining Copyright Enforcement on Online Social Media Platforms

Within the current European Union (EU) online copyright enforcement regime—of which Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive [2019] constitutes the seminal legal provision—the role of online content-sharing service providers (OCSSPs) is limited to ensuring that copyright owners obtain fair remuneration for content shared over their platforms (role of “content distributors”) and preventing unauthorized uses of copyright-protected content (“Internet police”). Neither role allows for a recognition of OCSSPs’ role as facilitators of democratic discourse and the duty incumbent on them to ensure that users’ freedom to engage in democratic discourse are preserved. This chapter proposes a re-imagining of the EU legal framework on online copyright enforcement—using the social planning theory of copyright law as a normative framework—to increase its fitness for preserving and promoting copyright law’s democracy-enhancing function.

Sunimal Mendis

Open Access

The Internet Is Dead: Long Live the Internet

Social exclusion, data exploitation, surveillance, and economic inequality on the web are mainly technological problems. The current web of centralized social media clouds delivers by design a winner-takes-all digital economy that stifles innovation and exacerbates power asymmetries between citizens, governments, and technology oligopolies. To fix the digital economy, we need a new, decentralized web where citizens are empowered to own their data, participate in disintermediated peer-to-peer marketplaces, and influence policy-making decisions by means of innovative applications of participatory and deliberative democracy. By reimagining “web 3.0” as a cloud commonwealth of networked virtual machines leveraging blockchains and sharing code, it is possible to design new digital business models where all stakeholders and participants, including users, can share the bounty of the Fourth Industrial Revolution fairly.

George Zarkadakis

Open Access

Return to Freedom: Governance of Fair Innovation Ecosystems

The Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism attaches great importance to the innovation processes shaping the digital society. The digital humanism question we pose in this chapter is: if innovation is a shaping force, can it itself be shaped by humans and based on human values of a just and democratic society? Nowadays, innovation is commonly theorized in policy and academic research in terms of ecosystems. Although this framing makes room for multiple stakeholders and their interaction, it is limited as it still positions innovation as a natural process. Thus, it underplays the human value and societal design dimensions of technosocial innovation. We discuss some ideas and proposals for the governance of digital innovation ecosystems such that they are fair and equitable. Design-for-fairness has as its basis a just and democratic societal conception of freedom.

Hans Akkermans, Jaap Gordijn, Anna Bon

Open Access

Decolonizing Technology and Society: A Perspective from the Global South

Despite the large impact of digital technology on the lives and future of all people on the planet, many people, especially from the Global South, are not included in the debates about the future of the digital society. This inequality is a systemic problem which has roots in the real world. We refer to this problem as “digital coloniality.” We argue that to achieve a more equitable and inclusive global digital society, active involvement of stakeholders from poor regions of the world as co-researchers, co-creators, and co-designers of technology is required. We briefly discuss a few collaborative, community-oriented technology development projects as examples of transdisciplinary knowledge production and action research for a more inclusive digital society.

Anna Bon, Francis Dittoh, Gossa Lô, Mónica Pini, Robert Bwana, Cheah WaiShiang, Narayanan Kulathuramaiyer, André Baart

Ethics and Philosophy of Technology


Open Access

Digital Humanism and the Limits of Artificial Intelligence

This chapter is programmatic in style and content. It describes some patterns and one central argument of that, what I take as the view of digital humanism and which we exposed in our book (Nida-Rümelin and Weidenfeld 2018). The central argument regards the critique of strong and weak AI. This chapter does not discuss the logical and metaphysical aspects of digital humanism that I take to be part of the broader context of the theory of reason (Nida-Rümelin 2020, Chaps. VI and VII).

Julian Nida-Rümelin

Open Access

Explorative Experiments and Digital Humanism: Adding an Epistemic Dimension to the Ethical Debate

The rise of Digital Humanism calls for shaping digital technologies in accordance with human values and needs. I argue that to achieve this goal, an epistemic and methodological dimension should be added to the ethical reflections developed in the last years. In particular, I propose the framework of explorative experimentation in computer science and engineering to set an agenda for the reflection on the ethical issues of digital technologies that seriously considers their peculiarities from an epistemic point of view. As the traditional epistemic categories of the natural sciences cannot be directly adopted by computer science and engineering, the traditional moral principles guiding experimentation in the natural sciences should be reconsidered in the case of digital technologies where uncertainty about their impacts and risks is very high.

Viola Schiaffonati

Open Access

Digital Humanism and Global Issues in Artificial Intelligence Ethics

In the fight against pandemics and climate crisis, the zero hunger challenge, the preservation of international peace and stability, and the protection of democratic participation in political decision-making, AI has increasing – and often double-edged – roles to play in connection with ethical issues having a genuinely global dimension. The governance of AI ambivalence in these contexts looms large on both the AI ethics and digital humanism agendas.

Guglielmo Tamburrini

Open Access

Our Digital Mirror

The digital world has a strong tendency to let everything in its realm appear as resources. This includes digital public discourse and its main creators, humans. In the digital realm, humans constitute the economic end and at the same time provide the means to fulfill that end. A good example is the case of online public discourse. It exemplifies a range of challenges from user abuse to amassment of power, difficulties in regulation, and algorithmic decision-making. At its root lies the untamed perception of humans as economic and information resources. In this way, digital technology provides us with a mirror that shows a side of what we are as humans. It also provides a starting point to discuss such questions as who would we like to be – including digitally, which purpose should we pursue, and how can we live the digital good life?

Erich Prem

Information Technology and the Arts


Open Access

Fictionalizing the Robot and Artificial Intelligence

This text explores the contemporary fascination with robots and digitality and points out how this distorts our view on what digitization can do for us. It pleads for a realist and non-fictionalized view on robots and artificial intelligence.

Nathalie Weidenfeld

Open Access

How to Be a Digital Humanist in International Relations: Cultural Tech Diplomacy Challenges Silicon Valley

Digital humanism is often seen as an antidote to the excesses of Silicon Valley and its underlying cultural values. It is however very short-sighted to label big tech exclusively as a threat to our humanistic values, since it has proven to be an essential ally, particularly in the context of the ongoing digital transformation of the international system and its negative impact on human rights and privacy. The emerging field of cultural tech diplomacy has established a new meeting point in the center of global innovation between diplomats, policy makers, artists, and technologists in order to positively shape the future of technology according to our needs and our full potential as human beings. A new digital humanism empowered by artists can serve as a compass for diplomats and technologists alike to serve their citizens and customers while navigating a world radically transformed by artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

Clara Blume, Martin Rauchbauer

Open Access

We Are Needed More Than Ever: Cultural Heritage, Libraries, and Archives

Libraries and archives as institutions of cultural heritage have a long history of and great expertise in collecting, securing, handling, and contextualizing masses of material and data. In the context of digital humanism, these institutions might become essential as a model as well as a field of experimentation. Questioning their own role as gatekeepers and curators, the digital transformation offers them the chance to open up – through both participatory initiatives and inclusive collecting. At the same time, however, it is a matter of preserving the library and archive as a place of encounter and personal dialogue in a human and humanist tradition.

Anita Eichinger, Katharina Prager

Open Access

Humanism and the Great Opportunity of Intelligent User Interfaces for Cultural Heritage

In the spirit of the modern meaning of the word humanism, if technology aims at the flourishing of humans, it is of the greatest value to empower each human being with the capability of appreciating culture, in an inclusive, individual-adaptive manner. In particular, in this brief chapter, the case is made for the opportunity that intelligent user interfaces can offer specifically in the area of culture, beyond the obvious infrastructural advantages we are all familiar with. Insight is provided on research aimed at the continuous personal enriching of individuals at cultural sites, approaching the ancient humanistic vision of connecting us to our cultural past, now made possible for all, not just for an elite.

Oliviero Stock

Data, Algorithm, and Fairness


Open Access

The Attention Economy and the Impact of Artificial Intelligence

The growing ubiquity of the Internet and the information overload created a new economy at the end of the twentieth century: the economy of attention. While difficult to size, we know that it exceeds proxies such as the global online advertising market which is now over $300 billion with a reach of 60% of the world population. A discussion of the attention economy naturally leads to the data economy and collecting data from large-scale interactions with consumers. We discuss the impact of AI in this setting, particularly of biased data, unfair algorithms, and a user-machine feedback loop tainted by digital manipulation and the cognitive biases of users. The impact includes loss of privacy, unfair digital markets, and many ethical implications that affect society as a whole. The goal is to outline that a new science for understanding, valuing, and responsibly navigating and benefiting from attention and data is much needed.

Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Usama M. Fayyad

Open Access

Did You Find It on the Internet? Ethical Complexities of Search Engine Rankings

Search engines play a crucial role in our access to information. Their search ranking can amplify certain information while making others virtually invisible. Ethical issues arise regarding the criteria that the ranking is based on, the structure of the resulting ranking, and its implications. Critics often put forth a collection of commonly held values and principles, arguing that these provide the needed guidance for ethical search engines. However, these values and principles are often in tension with one another and lead us to incompatible criteria and results, as I show in this short chapter. We need a more rigorous public debate that goes beyond principles and engages with necessary value trade-offs.

Cansu Canca

Open Access

Personalization, Fairness, and Post-Userism

The incorporation of fairness-aware machine learning presents a challenge for creators of personalized systems, such as recommender systems found in e-commerce, social media, and elsewhere. These systems are designed and promulgated as providing services tailored to each individual user’s unique needs. However, fairness may require that other objectives, possibly in conflict with personalization, also be satisfied. The theoretical framework of post-userism, which broadens the focus of design in HCI settings beyond the individual end user, provides an avenue for this integration. However, in adopting this approach, developers will need to offer new, more complex narratives of what personalized systems do and whose needs they serve.

Robin Burke

Platform Power


Open Access

The Curation Chokepoint

A key rationale for Apple and Google’s app stores was that they curate apps to ensure that they do not contain malware. Curation has gone beyond this goal and now unduly constrains the apps that you can use on your smartphone. It needs to stop. App quality should be ensured with other techniques and by a wider range of organizations than just Apple and Google.

James Larus

Open Access

Business Model Innovation and the Rise of Technology Giants

Technology giants owe much of their success to fundamental improvements in the science and technology of information and communications technology. However, complementary advancements were also necessary, and, much as firms had to learn to incorporate electricity in the last nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we posit that the giant platforms have learned to harness the contributions of external actors in order to grow more rapidly than would otherwise have been possible. Thus, the drivers of the dramatic rise of the tech giant platform firm can be viewed as a business model innovation as well as a technical innovation. As orchestration business models become better understood, we expect that firms in non-platform sectors are increasingly likely to adapt practices that also allow them to participate in and benefit from external value creation. At the same time, we expect regulatory scrutiny to increase as the power and reach of technology giants increases and their influence is felt across the economy.

Geoffrey G. Parker

Open Access

Scaling Up Broken Systems? Considerations from the Area of Music Streaming

We discuss the effects and characteristics of disruptive business models driven by technology, exemplified by the developments in music distribution and consumption over the last 20 years. Starting from a historical perspective, we offer insights into the current situation in music streaming, where technology has not only changed the way we access music but also has important implications on the broader ecosystem, which includes the consumers, the authors, the record industry, and the platforms themselves. The discussion points to potential benefits, as well as to the risks involved in the currently deployed systems. We conclude that the increased profitability of the disruptive business models in the music domain and beyond is largely generated at the expense of the providers of the goods or services being brokered. Using the platforms as a consumer further subsidizes their value and might lead to mono- and oligopolies. While technology allows companies to effectively scale up business, the resulting systems more often amplify existing injustices than mitigate them.

Peter Knees

Open Access

The Platform Economy After COVID-19: Regulation and the Precautionary Principle

Online platforms are two-sided or multisided markets whose main function is matching different groups (of producers, consumers, users, advertisers, i.e., hosts and guest in Airbnb, audiences and advertised in Google, etc.) that might otherwise find it more difficult to interact and possibly transact. Some of the potential critical issues associated with the platform economy include the relationship between personhood (the quality and condition of being an individual person with protected sphere of privacy and intimacy) and personal data, on which the platform economy thrives by extracting behavioral surplus, scale to dominance and market power, and lockin for businesses. In this chapter, I first shortly review how the pandemic crisis has impacted the platform economy and what problems are being exacerbated. I then conclude and focus the core part of my analysis on the issue of regulation and particularly on the merits and limits of applying the precautionary principle when addressing the online platform economy.

Cristiano Codagnone

Education and Skills of the Future


Open Access

Educational Requirements for Positive Social Robotics

Social robotics does not create tools but social ‘others’ that act in the physical and symbolic space of human social interactions. In order to guide the profound disruptive potential of this technology, social robotics must be repositioned—we must reconceive it as an emerging interdisciplinary area where expertise on social reality, as physical, practical, and symbolic space, is constitutively included. I present here the guiding principles for such a repositioning, “Integrative Social Robotics,” and argue that the path to culturally sustainable (value-preserving) or positive (value-enhancing) applications of social robotics goes via a redirection of the humanities and social sciences. Rather than creating new educations by disemboweling, the humanities and social sciences, students need to acquire full disciplinary competence in these disciplines, as well as the new skill to direct these qualifications toward membership in multidisciplinary developer teams.

Johanna Seibt

Open Access

Informatics as a Fundamental Discipline in General Education: The Danish Perspective

Informatics in general, and the particular development of artificial intelligence, is changing human knowledge, perception, and reality, thus radically changing the course of human history. Informatics has made it possible to automate an extraordinary range of tasks by enabling machines to play an increasingly decisive role in drawing conclusions from data and then taking action. The growing transfer of judgment from human beings to machines denotes the revolutionary aspect of informatics.For societies to maintain or regain democratic control and supremacy over digital technology, it is imperative to include informatics in general education with a dual perspective on possibilities and implications of computing for individuals and society. The Danish informatics curriculum for general education acknowledges the dual and bipartite nature of informatics by complementing a constructive approach to computing with a critical analytic approach to digital artifacts.

Michael E. Caspersen

Open Access

The Unbearable Disembodiedness of Cognitive Machines

Digital systems make up nowadays the communication and social infrastructure and fill every parcel of space and time, affecting our lives both professionally and personally. However, these “cognitive machines” are completely detached from the human nature, whose comprehension is beyond their capabilities. It is therefore our duty to ensure their actions respect human rights and values of a democratic society. Education is one of the main tools to attain this goal, and a generalized preparation in the scientific basis of the digital technologies is a required element. Moreover, it is fundamental to understand why the digital automation has a nature completely different from the traditional industrial one and to develop an appreciation for human and social viewpoints in the development and deployment of digital systems. These are the key issues considered in this chapter.

Enrico Nardelli

Digital Geopolitics and Sovereignty


Open Access

The Technological Construction of Sovereignty

For policy-makers, it has always been a struggle to do justice to a diversity of perspectives when tackling challenging issues such as market access regulation, public investment in R&D, long-term unemployment, etc. In this struggle, technology, as a force that shapes economy, society, and democracy, at best used to be considered as an exogenous factor and at worst was simply forgotten. Today, however, we live in a different world. Technology is recognized as a major driver. Digital technology is now in the veins, heart, and brains of our society. Yet, the idea that we can put technology to our hand to shape reality, rather than taking technology as a given, has still not been embraced by policy-makers. This chapter argues that we can and should give a stronger steer on technology to construct the kind of reality and in particular the kind of sovereignty we aspire.

Paul Timmers

Open Access

A Crucial Decade for European Digital Sovereignty

The current decade will be critical for Europe’s aspiration to attain and maintain digital sovereignty so as to effectively protect and promote its humanistic values in the evolving digital ecosystem. Digital sovereignty in the current geopolitical context remains a fluid concept as it must rely on a balanced strategic interdependence with the USA, China, and other global actors. The developing strategy for achieving this relies on the coordinated use of three basic instruments, investment, regulation, and completion of the digital internal market. Investment, in addition to the multiannual financial framework (2021–2027) instruments, will draw upon the 20% of the 750 billion recovery fund. Regulation, in addition to the Digital Governance Act and the Digital Market Act, will include the Data Act, the new AI regulation, and more that is in the pipeline, leveraging the so-called Brussels effect. Of key importance for the success of this effort remains the timing and “dovetailing” of the particular actions taken.

George Metakides

Open Access

Geopolitics and Digital Sovereignty

The geopolitical dialogue about technology has, for a quarter of a century, essentially revolved around a single technological ecosystem built by the American private sector. An assumption took hold that, over time, clearer “rules of the road” for this digital domain would take hold. But progress toward this has been surprisingly slow; we sometimes refer to “grey zone” activity, because the rules, insofar as they exist, are fuzzy.In the meantime, the digital climate is changing. China’s technological ambitions are not to compete on the American-built, free, open Internet, but to design and build a completely new, more authoritarian system to supplant it. This is forcing a bifurcation of the Internet, and organizations like the European Union and countries across the world have to rethink whether the regulation of American technology is really where the focus should be, rather than working with the USA to contest China’s ambitions.

Ciaran Martin

Open Access

Cultural Influences on Artificial Intelligence: Along the New Silk Road

Applications of AI, in particular data-driven decision-making, concern citizens, governments, and corporations. China was one of the first countries to have identified AI as a key technology in which to invest heavily and develop a national strategy. This in turn has led to many other countries and the European Union (EU) to develop their own strategies. The societal investments and applications of AI are so far-reaching that looking only at the resulting technological innovations is insufficient. Instead, we need to be aware of the societal implications of AI applications—of which there are many—as well as the geopolitical role of business and academic players.

Lynda Hardman

Open Access

Geopolitics, Digital Sovereignty…What’s in a Word?

An overlay of digital networks and services often operated by global players encircles and “shrinks” the planet. At the same time, the geopolitical dynamics have entered a cycle of feud for leadership between trade blocs who compete for economic and industrial leadership but also on ethics, values, and political outlook. In this context, governments and lawmakers are struggling to combine the need for global cooperation in digital matters with the imperative to protect their jurisdiction from undue influence and provide economic agents with the means to compete on a global scale. The concept of “digital sovereignty” was carved to address this. Words matter a lot especially when they are meant to translate political goals. We argue that “digital sovereignty” lacks meaning and teeth, while the concept of “strategic autonomy” is more operative, contains in itself the elements of strategic planning, and should lead EU to aim at genuine “digital non-alignment.”

Hannes Werthner

Systems and Society


Open Access

Work Without Jobs

Technology has always had an impact on the world of work. This chapter compares the transformation of our societies during the Industrial Revolution with potential transformations that digitalization may bring about today. If digitalization is truly disruptive, more may be at stake than job losses in some sectors and job gains in others. Identifying several key features of digitalization, this chapter sketches a future of work in which not jobs but work itself stands in the center of economic activity. Such a development could open a pathway to more humanistic, more democratic, and more sustainable societies but would require rethinking entirely how we organize and reward work on a societal level.

Daniel K. Samaan

Open Access

Why Don’t You Do Something to Help Me? Digital Humanism: A Call for Cities to Act

Cities across the globe face the challenge of managing massive digitization processes to meet climate goals and turn urban agglomerations into more livable places. Digital Humanism helps us to see and define how such transformations can be done through empowerment of citizens and administrations, with a strong political agenda calling for inclusion, quality of life, and social goals. Such an approach appears to be much more promising than top-down technological fantasies as often provided by large companies in fields like housing, transport, the use of public space, or healthcare. The title refers to a question put to Stan Laurel by Oliver Hardy in countless movies. Here the latter stands for a city calling industry for help. The delivery as we know can lead straight to disaster, but in real life it is less funny than with the two great comedians.

Michael Stampfer

Open Access

Ethics or Quality of Life?

Governmental and non-governmental organizations around the world are trying to shape socio-technical development, especially the use of information technology, for the benefit of people. They are developing ethical guidelines for the creation and evaluation of digital services. The discipline of Life Engineering must combine the knowledge of several disciplines, such as psychology, machine learning, economics, and ethics, so that technology serves people, i.e., contributes to well-being. Therefore, a solid understanding of quality of life should be the starting point, explaining the patterns of human behavior and their impact on well-being. Digital services of all kinds provide increasingly detailed digital twins and give us the opportunity to operationalize ethical principles.

Hubert Österle

Open Access

Responsible Technology Design: Conversations for Success

Digital humanism calls for new technologies that enhance human dignity and autonomy by educating, controlling, or otherwise holding developers responsible. However, this approach to responsible technology design paradoxically depends on the premise that technology is a path to overcoming human limitations while assuming that developers are themselves capable of super-human feats of prognostication. Recognizing developers as subject to human limitations themselves means that responsible technology design cannot be merely a matter of expecting developers to create technology that leads to certain desirable outcomes. Rather, responsible design involves expecting the technologies to be designed in ways that provide for active, meaningful, ongoing conversations between the developer and the technology, between the user and the technology, and between the user and the developer—and expecting that designers and users will commit to engaging in those conversations.

Susan J. Winter, Brian S. Butler

Open Access

Navigating Through Changes of a Digital World

In this chapter, we address the question of how trust in technological development can be increased. The use of information technologies can potentially enable humanity, social justice, and the democratic process. At the same time, there are concerns that the deployment of certain technologies, e.g., AI technologies, can have unintended consequences or can even be used for malicious purposes. In this chapter, we discuss these conflicting positions.

Nathalie Hauk, Manfred Hauswirth

Learning from Crisis


Open Access

Efficiency vs. Resilience: Lessons from COVID-19

Why was the world not ready for COVID-19, in spite of many warnings over the past 20 years of the high likelihood of a global pandemic? This chapter argues that the economic goal of efficiency, focused on short-term optimization, has distracted us from resilience, which is focused on long-term optimization. Computing also seems to have generally emphasized efficiency at the expense of resilience. But computing has discovered that resilience is enabled by redundancy and distributivity. These principles should be adopted by society in the “after-COVID” era.

Moshe Y. Vardi

Open Access

Contact Tracing Apps: A Lesson in Societal Aspects of Technological Development

Overall, there might be more important aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global fight against it than contact tracing apps. But the case of the contact tracing apps tells us an interesting story in the context of Digital Humanism. It shows us that the principle of privacy by design has reached practice and what it can mean and achieve. Unfortunately, it is also a lesson about the societal limitations of privacy by design in practice. It is a good thing that people are skeptical and ask questions about privacy and data protection. However, it is necessary to differentiate and try to make educated decisions or trust experts and civil society.

Walter Hötzendorfer

Open Access

Data, Models, and Decisions: How We Can Shape Our World by Not Predicting the Future

Modelling and simulation can be used for different goals and purposes. Prediction is only one of them, and, as this chapter highlights, it might not be the main goal—even if it was in the spotlight during the COVID-19 crisis. Predicting the future is a vanity. Instead, we aim to prevent certain events in the future by describing scenarios, or, even better, we try to actively shape the future according to our social, technological, or economic goals. Thus, modellers can contribute to debate and social discourse; this is one of the aims of Digital Humanism.

Niki Popper

Open Access

Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a tragic and profound impact on our planet. Thousands of lives have been lost, millions of jobs have been destroyed, and the life of billions of people has been changed and disrupted. In this dramatic turmoil, digital technologies have been playing an essential role. The Internet and all its services have enabled our societies to keep working and operating; social networks have provided valuable channels to disseminate information and kept people connected despite lockdowns and the block of most travels; most importantly, digital technologies are key to support researchers, epidemiologists, and public officers in studying, monitoring, controlling, and managing this unprecedented emergency.After more than a year, it is possible and worthwhile to propose some reflections on the strengths and weaknesses we have experienced and, most importantly, on the lessons learned that must drive our future policies and roadmaps. This is unavoidable not just to improve our ability to react to these dramatic situation, but, most importantly, to proactively design and develop a better future for our society.

Alfonso Fuggetta

Open Access

The Need for Respectful Technologies: Going Beyond Privacy

Digital technologies, the data they collect, and the ways in which that data is used increasingly effect our psychological, social, economic, medical, and safety-related well-being. While technology can be used to improve our well-being on all of these axes, it can also perpetrate harm. Prior research has focused near exclusively on privacy as a primary harm. Yet, privacy is only one of the many considerations that users have when adopting a technology. In this chapter, I use the case study of COVID-19 apps to argue that this reductionist view on technology harm has prevented effective adoption of beneficial technology. Further, a privacy-only focus risks perpetuating and magnifying existing technology-related inequities. To realize the potential of well-being technology, we need to create technologies that are respectful not only of user privacy but of users’ expectations for their technology use and the context in which that use takes place.

Elissa M. Redmiles

Realizing Digital Humanism


Open Access

Digital Humanism: Navigating the Tensions Ahead

The assumption of digital humanism that a human-centered approach is possible in the design, use, and further development of AI entails an alignment with human values. If the more ambitious goal of building a good digital society along the co-evolutionary path between humans and the digital machines invented by them is to be reached, inherent tensions need to be confronted. Some of them are the result of already existing inequalities and divergent economic, social, and political interests, exacerbated by the impact of digital technologies. Others arise from the question what makes us human and how our interaction with digital machines changes our identity and relations to each other. If digital humanism is to succeed, a widely shared set of practices and attitudes is needed that sensitize us to the diversity of social contexts in which digital technologies are deployed and how to deal with complex, non-linear systems.

Helga Nowotny

Open Access

Should We Rethink How We Do Research?

Advances in digital technologies move incredibly fast from the research stage to practical use, and they generate radical changes in the world, affecting humans in all aspects of their life. The chapter illustrates how this can have profound implications on the way technological research is developed. It also discusses the need for researchers to engage more actively in public debates with society.

Carlo Ghezzi

Open Access

Interdisciplinarity: Models and Values for Digital Humanism

This chapter starts from the recognition that the world is facing major challenges and that these may be best addressed by people working together, across different disciplinary domains and between universities, civil society, governments, and industry. After sketching these problems, I provide an overview of the meanings of discipline and of multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinarity. I then provide a brief historical overview of how disciplines emerge. Examples from computer sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, and collaborations between them, are used to illustrate these definitions and overview. In the final part, I reflect on what this means for digital humanism, drawing on different models and values of collaboration.

Sally Wyatt

Open Access

It Is Simple, It Is Complicated

History is not a strictly linear process; our progress as society is one full of contradictions. This we have to bear in mind when trying to find answers to pressing challenges related to and even caused by the digital transformation. In this chapter, we reflect on contradictory aspects of Digital Humanism, which is an approach to foster the control and the design of digital infrastructure in accordance with human values and needs. Seemingly simple solutions turn out to be highly complex when looking at them more closely. Focusing on some key aspects as (non-exhaustive) examples of the simple/complicated dilemma, we argue that, in the end, political answers are required.

Julia Neidhardt, Hannes Werthner, Stefan Woltran
Perspectives on Digital Humanism
Hannes Werthner
Erich Prem
Edward A. Lee
Carlo Ghezzi
Copyright Year
Electronic ISBN
Print ISBN

Premium Partner