AI, Big Data, Social Media, and People on the Move Review of the 5th Weizenbaum Conference

At the Weizenbaum Conference 2023, more than 400 participants from academia, the arts, civil society, and politics discussed the various dimensions and interconnections of "AI, Big Data, Social Media, and People on the Move" on site and online.

The conference focused on the question of what role different digital technologies play for "people on the move" - with "people on the move" being understood both spatially (migration and flight) and in terms of economic and social change (changing working conditions, access conditions). In the discussions, current phenomena such as disinformation and algorithmic bias were examined from different perspectives, and the possibilities, limits and dangers of generative artificial intelligence were discussed.

It has been repeatedly problematized that digital technologies often offer "high tech solutions" for "low tech problems" - which does not fundamentally solve the problems, but often reproduces and even reinforces asymmetrical power relations. Where development and control of key digital technologies are in private hands, they often remain inaccessible for political regulation as well as science and thus opaque for users, citizens and consumers. The central demands were therefore transparency and the strengthening of democratic design and control of both public and private infrastructures.

Digital worlds and human values

In his opening of the conference, Christoph Neuberger, scientific director and director of the Weizenbaum Institute, emphasized that the theme of the conference, in the midst of a critical debate about artificial intelligence, raised the crucial question of how digital worlds can be shaped by human values. In her welcoming address, Federal Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger emphasized that there was no better place for this important debate than the Weizenbaum Institute. She emphasized that the new, generative technologies will be key technologies of the future. In addition to the debate about their limits and dangers, therefore, their possibilities and opportunities should not be lost sight of. Ina Czyborra, Berlin Senator for Science, Health and Care, also emphasized that the topics of this conference posed nothing less than the key questions for the future of our society. The Program Chairs Elizaveta Kuznetsova (Research Group Leader at the Weizenbaum Institute) and Bettina Berendt and Martin Krzywdzinski (Directors of the Weizenbaum Institute) then gave an introductory overview of these topics.

Keynote Speaker

In her opening keynote Petra Molnar reported on the use of digital technologies in political-geographical border regions. He argues that this not only leads to an intensification of violence at existing border installations. The lack of regulation, he said, allows private actors, states, and international organizations to experiment with and test these new technologies to capture, monitor, discipline, and control people on the run. This is often accompanied by manifest violations of basic human rights, and her presentation focused in particular on violations of the right to privacy, informational self-determination, and freedom from discrimination. In the discussion that followed, the value of interdisciplinary research approaches for dealing with these issues was emphasized. At the same time, it was pointed out that researching these issues at is often emotionally stressful and often dangerous for scientists. But only in this way is it possible to make the perspectives of the "people on the move" visible and to assert their concerns, interests and rights.


Philip Howard reported in his keynote speech on the founding of the International Panel on the Information Environment (IPIE). IPIE's mission is to identify and research cases and structures of disinformation, manipulation and algorithmic bias worldwide and to develop practical as well as independent recommendations for action for companies, policy makers and civil society. The discussion centered on the difficulties of integrating diverse scientific perspectives from different regional and national contexts to obtain reliable and meaningful data on disinformation campaigns from non-transparent organized international platforms. Howard drew attention to the fact that ideological campaigns are often supported and stabilized by economic interests. To track and evaluate these from their development to their testing to their playout and impact across different platforms around the world requires almost forensic work, he said.

Research - for the networked society

In addition to these overarching questions, current research results on further questions were presented and discussed in nine sessions: How do Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Management influence labor markets and jobs? What does this mean for platform workers and especially migrant workers? To what extent do data classifications, algorithms and search engines determine our view of anti-Semitism, the Third Reich and the Holocaust? What role do algorithms play in the dissemination of propaganda in the context of the war in Ukraine? How are migrant communities and refugees represented on social media? What role do these same technologies play in organizing humanitarian aid? What are the challenges and opportunities presented by the so-called AI Act of the European Union? What can the new generative language models like ChatGPT, what can they not do and what would they better not be used for? And of course: How can this knowledge be made usable for science, economy, politics and society?

The global problems of the present are not AI-generated

With his presentation "1&∞Chairs", the interdisciplinary artist Egor Kraft, who locates himself at the intersection of art, media, technology, film and science, demonstrated the possibilities and limitations of digital technologies such as image generators, as well as the precarious role of meaning in machine learning. Against this backdrop, the discussion with David Berry (University of Sussex) and Barbara Pfetsch (Freie Universität Berlin and Principal Investigator at the Weizenbaum Institute) considered the dangers of artificial intelligence as a generative technology. After an understanding of terms such as "artificial intelligence" or "generative", the question of ownership of these technologies and their products as well as journalistic integrity and human judgment were addressed. What does it mean for social relations, social orders, and political decisions when authorship, truthfulness, and authenticity are no longer verifiable or trustworthy? At the same time, it was underscored that today's global social problems are not AI-generated, but rather produced by political, economic, and/or media structures. The central agreement of this panel debate was - in the spirit of Joseph Weizenbaum - that human judgment must remain in charge. For this to succeed, a fundamental understanding of these technologies is necessary. The prerequisites for this are, on the one hand, the creation of transparency about how these technologies work and how they come to decisions, and, on the other hand, increased efforts to promote digital literacy in education.

For a better understanding, so the unanimous conclusion, interdisciplinary international conferences like the Weizenbaum Conference are of great importance, where the concerns, questions and perspectives of science, politics and civil society come into a constructive exchange.

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