About a third of the experts who responded to this canvassing said people’s uses of technology will mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy and democratic representation. This section includes comments about hopes for the future that were made by all respondents, whether or not their answer in this canvassing was that democracy will be strengthened. These more hopeful themes and suggestions are organized under seven themes.

Evolving individuals: Increased citizen awareness, digital literacy improvements and better engagement among educators will be evident in the next decade

Beth Noveck, director, NYU Governance Lab and its MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance, also has confidence in the public’s ability to make a difference. She wrote, “Because of the work that so many people are undertaking to transform our institutions for the better, I remain, despite pressures to the contrary, optimistic about the power of technology to make it possible for citizens to participate in new and better ways in governance using new technology. This is what I call crowdlaw. If we continue to experiment with building better crowdlaw tools and practices, the public will be able to inform the agenda-setting process by sharing what they know about problems as they experience them. They will be able to do more than identify problems. They can contribute solutions to problems and deliberate with other citizens to craft and refine those solutions. They can and should be able to participate in drafting policies and proposals. Perhaps most important, they will be able to collectively hold government to account by tracking the effectiveness of the implementation of new policies and services. Finally, they will be able to exercise decision-making authority, voting on how money is spent and power wielded. With new technology, we can experiment with new ways of doing such things, too, including comparing the impact of having people volunteer to participate in such online processes versus selecting a sample of people to participate. There is much work to be done to test what will work to improve the impact of new technology on democracy in 2030.”

Technology will make educated citizens, who also understand how the internet works, more aware.
An entrepreneur

Charlie Firestone, executive director, Communications and Society Program and vice president, Aspen Institute, commented, “For the next four to five years there is likely to be more surveillance techniques, e.g., facial recognition; more deceptive activity over the internet, e.g., deepfakes; and more sophisticated means of manipulation of user data to gain advantages from those users. But I am hopeful that there will be a reaction to these abuses coming to fruition in the latter 2020s, resulting in new and better uses for democratic purposes.”

Christopher G. Caine, president and founder of Mercator XXI, a professional services firm helping clients engage in the global economy, commented, “We are living in an era of radical transparency enabled by the diffusion of technology and its distributed capabilities. We are learning how to live in this environment right now, and our skills will improve over the next 11 years. Our judgment and awareness of the implications of statements and behavior will evolve and ‘mature.’ I believe and am hopeful this will bring us back to a more shared-values-based society.”

Tony Patt, professor of climate policy, ETH Zurich, and author of “Transforming Energy: Solving Climate Change with Technology Policy,” said, “Democracy is a tool to manage problems in a way that takes into account diverging goals and objectives in society. It allows people to accept and support the solutions even if they do not enthusiastically support them. To a large extent, this represents an issue of data and information management. So, advances in data and information management will have a large impact on how democracy functions. I believe in people’s desire to make the world a better place for their children. So, where things happen that create both opportunities and threats, we are likely to take advantage of the opportunities and deal with the threats. In the long run, change will be more likely positive than negative, even if in the short run there are major problems.”

An entrepreneur based in Southeast Asia said, “What do you expect democracy to look like in 2030 from the perspective of citizens? Educated citizens who also understand how the internet works will become more-aware citizens. What aspects of essential democratic institutions will change? More-aware citizens will likely be active participants and contribute to society by volunteering or by making choices/decisions that are for the betterment of society. What role will technology play in whatever changes take place? Technology will make educated citizens, who also understand how the internet works, more aware.”

Torben Riise, CEO with ExecuTeam Inc., based in Phoenix, Arizona, said, “As the young generation comes of age as voters and as electable individuals, and as young people will depend almost exclusively on the digital world, technology will become THE factor that most will impact the democratic process. That requires a well-educated population in terms of discerning facts from ‘fiction,’ as the strength of the process also is the weakness of the system (until security like blockchain plugs the holes in the system). If the benefits outweigh the risks, as I believe they will, this will strengthen the political system by 2030.”

Rebecca Theobald, assistant research professor, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, said, “After dealing with the unpleasant aspects of social media and gerrymandering, for instance, academics, voting-rights advocates and community organizations are working to make sure technologies such as geospatial technology work for good of many rather than for a few.”

Jeremy Malcolm, director of the Prostasia Foundation, formerly with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote, “By 2030, most of those in government will have grown up with the internet as an integrated part of their daily lives. There will be less of a perception from these people that the internet is something new and fearsome that has disrupted the way that life was before. They will be well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the internet in relation to political organizing and will have adjusted their expectations of what government can (and cannot) do to control these effects. This will result in a realignment of power between governments and whichever actors then have more control over online narratives – which might not be the same actors as today.”

Daniel Estrada, digital humanities and ethics lecturer at New Jersey Institute of Technology, said, “The internet has been a bastion of democracy and education – an anarchist space – from its earliest days. Its early participants understood that the new space required developing new cultures, norms, aesthetics and practices of engagement and moderation. These were the cultures developed on message boards and Internet Relay Chat channels, that primordial soup from which the memes of today first emerged. But in the last decade, the internet has consolidated around a few major tech channels: Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon. A techlash that targets these big companies will make room for the internet to return to its early values of digital anarchy and free education. These changes will take two forms. First, there will be growing public support for regulation and oversight of the big tech companies, especially in the use of targeted advertising. Second, and more importantly, we’ll see further fragmentation of internet cultures, away from the consolidated streams and toward more niche community spaces that are independently moderated, like early internet or cable TV. Self-moderating, self-organizing cultures will provide a basis for demographic-focused advertising without the anti-social consequences of targeted advertising, allowing the internet to self-organize a healthy diversity of cultural and normative frameworks. I believe this will ultimately strengthen public education and democracy.”

Marcus Foth, professor of urban informatics, Queensland University of Technology, explained, “The internet’s early heyday painted perhaps romantic pictures of the democratisation of knowledge, participatory culture and the global village. Today these visions have largely been replaced with much more realistic, pragmatic, opportunistic perspectives that ground the internet’s benefits in realities of walled gardens, platform economies, corporate interests and data harvesting. I believe as a result of this more balanced and mature view of the internet’s actual pros and cons today, democracy in 2030 may benefit and be strengthened not just from the usual allies such as progressive academics, human rights and environmental groups. New segments of society are starting to get concerned and be protective of the internet’s role in the future of democracy.”

A researcher based in Norway said, “We have not yet learned how to use the internet and are now experiencing whiplash. The internet is not a neutral channel for communication. People are sometimes only aware of short-term shortcomings and not of long-term benefits of a policy – everyone screams, no one reads. However, I believe that we can and will learn how to make the internet a tool for democracy mainly because that is the only choice we have – we cannot and do not want to make the internet go away.”

Barry Parr, technology marketer at Delphix, previously an innovator and analyst in online journalism, said, “Citizens will be better informed and better organized than they are now. There are certainly risks of misinformation, but these are outweighed by the general availability of quality of information and tools available to those who are working to make civil society better.”

With time, citizens will become savvy in distinguishing legitimate information online.
Cheryl B. Preston

Sanoussi Baahe Dadde, a self-employed internet consultant, said, “I would like democracy to look like trade in 2030, where people everywhere will understand that ‘I have a choice,’ which means it is not by force that a party can win election, but by the voice of people.”

Deb Socia, executive director, Next Century Cities, said, “Access to technology will allow greater participation in the democratic process. The opportunity to share concerns and celebrations asynchronously, to sign up for services, to participate in decision-making are all made easier when technology is involved. I think of options like participatory budgeting, the immediate sharing of the existence of a community hazard, the opportunity to watch and participate in city council hearings, the ability to engage with elected officials online as examples of how technology is enhancing engagement today. I can only imagine how technology will provide further enhanced engagement options in the future.”

A professor known for her research into online communications and digital literacies said, “Having so much information so freely available is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. How will we respond in terms of how we regulate, educate, make new laws and so forth? There is a learning curve with new technologies in terms of separating fact from fiction. The internet poses the most sophisticated challenges yet in this regard; it’s so easy to manipulate and make fake things look real. Yet, I have faith that as humans evolve to catch up with their technologies, we will learn how to be more discriminating and careful. Most people today know what a piece of junk mail is; the same can’t be said for years ago. Yet with all of that said, I do worry about the near future, especially with conspiracy theorists being invited to the White House and the false equivalence fallacy everywhere (my idea is as good as yours; my understanding of vaccines is as good as the understanding of a medical doctor). By 2030, I expect the technologies to be more sophisticated, and I also hope that the big Western democracies will keep working on the problem.”

Cheryl B. Preston, an expert in internet law and professor, Brigham Young University Law School, said, “With time, citizens will become savvy in distinguishing legitimate information online. They will be thus better informed. Social media are more than the deliverers of news; they uniquely bring users into the conversation. Anyone with an opinion can be a political pundit for those who follow their social media accounts. Recipients not only read their peers’ political views, they also ‘like,’ share the post or start up their own commentary. Those who shared or commented are often forced to defend their comments in response to pointed disagreement, and thus develop a personal stake in the controversy. Social media users acquire political power. As Sarah Tran argues in ‘Cyber Republicanism,’ ‘Beyond their mission statements, social media sites have built-in mechanisms for discussion and debate among citizens. … The threat of a viral uprising can motivate government actors and special-interest groups to listen more closely to public concerns. It can further entice them to spend more resources on educating the public about issues of national, regional and local concern.’ Social media not only give users an added measure of interactivity, they also grant their users the ability to acquire political power. One study found that ‘interactive online communication is positively related to participation’ in political activities. Thus, the Net generation, along with many Americans, have become activists. This wealth of information and depth of involvement will increase over time.”

Tracey Follows, futurist and founder, Futuremade, wrote, “One is more likely to ignore a fact that does not fit one’s world view than change one’s world view to fit the fact. Human nature is stronger than social media. However, social media has changed the nature of institutions because the messaging is no longer one way and broadcast, but two way and dialogue, and by virtue of that means that institutions have to be open to criticism, and question. We can only expect more of this over the next decade or so to the point that almost every policy, statement and utterance an authority or institution makes in the future is immediately questioned in detail and in public, rather than is taken as objective fact. That is what has changed and will continue to change.”

Charles Ess, professor of digital ethics, at the University of Oslo, said, “Some hope may lie in approaches such as ‘privacy by design’ or ‘ethically aligned design’ (IEEE) and the EU initiatives to preserve democratic rights and our impulses toward good lives flourishing. These will require increased citizen awareness and engagement, which in turn requires strong support by educational and governmental institutions.”

Mary Griffiths, associate professor at the University of Adelaide, Australia, an expert in digital citizenship and e-government, said, “My hope is that liberal representative democracy will still look the best option from a citizen’s perspective in 2030. If it does, that will mean that democratic institutions have survived more than a decade of technology-enabled challenges, and also rebuffed the political alternatives that the rise of nationalist race- or class-based populism, the artificially created social divisions and the tightening of information security legislation by more authoritarian governments can offer. It would also mean fewer charismatic figures appearing on the political scene to present a spurious version of ‘direct democracy’ to citizens aided by access to and support from as-yet-unaccountable global technology platforms. But – and it’s a big but – can we be sure this will happen? Citizens deserve a liberal democracy and we all have responsibility to consider not only self-interest but the collective good in a polity. These ideas are key, and technology offers multiple ways to communicate them positively. What is essential for the future of democracy? Better-supported K-12 education systems where critical thinking is taught every day, along with routine civility, openness to new ideas, the importance to the whole collective of a free press and the expectation of peaceful transfers of fairly elected power. The impact of technology on democratic institutions has been simultaneously negative and positive. Positive institutional change may come from the distribution of mass calls for greater transparency and accountability in government, and the mobilising of support for progressive social and economic changes.”

I expect to see better-informed decision-making, from government policy down to individual vote choices at the polls.
Anonymous respondent

Valerie Bock, VCB Consulting, former Technical Services Lead at Q2 Learning, responded, “We are beginning to understand the weaknesses in current technologies and are in the process of addressing those weaknesses, as well as developing more sophisticated ways of interpreting the information they provide for us. I am hopeful that by 2030, the concentration of power will have been reversed somewhat, and citizens will have a renewed sense that their vote matters, that it is important to inform themselves, and that they know where to find reliable sources of that information.”

June Parris, a member of the Internet Society chapter in Barbados, wrote, “Technology should close gaps between various members of society, however, I can see that it may drive society apart. What is actually taking place is that it is being used to further and improve the lives of those that are already actualized, and some members of society are left out. Democracy should be inclusive, yet the gap between rich and poor is widening. We can work to prevent this from happening by being more inclusive.”

Anonymous respondents commented:

  • “More people, both in roles inside institutions and as individuals, will become more tech savvy, and new approaches to reaching out to people, to educating citizens, to interacting with individuals and with institutions will develop and continue to be developed as technologies emerge and evolve.”
  • “We need to educate people about the ways in which their opinions can be manipulated.”
  • “I expect to see better-informed decision-making, from government policy down to individual vote choices at the polls.”

Adapting systems: Changes in the design of human systems and an improved ethos among technologists will help democracy

Brian Southwell, director, Science in the Public Sphere Program, RTI International, said, “Some observations from the 1920s, e.g., Walter Lippmann’s ‘Public Opinion’ or ‘The Phantom Public,’ about the opportunities for and limits of public opinion as a source for governance, are still relevant today. New technologies theoretically offer some promise for new mechanisms for representation, and yet we still do not have widespread use of electronic voting. New technologies offer some promise for citizens to communicate horizontally rather than depending on major news outlets, but then we also have seen some dysfunction in that regard. Insofar as new technologies allow us to gather and focus together on central issues of concern, they will improve our democratic institutions. If we allow them to divide people into specialized groups, then there is some threat in the use of those technologies.”

Digitization brings us wonderful tools, the potential of much data and new freedoms – we just don’t know how to use or work them yet.
Jennifer Jarratt

Louis Gross, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and mathematics, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, said, “I expect that many organizations (religious, cultural, educational) will band together to enforce data privacy for their members and will be an effective political force to bring about legislative action. New means to carry on discourse that have data privacy constraints built into them will be developed and flourish. I anticipate continued development of tech tools for individual use that constrain the availability of personal data, as well as tools at above-individual level that carry out a variety of automated checking of online materials that individuals can connect with to decide what is best from their perspective. I also anticipate very strong legislative action to protect those individuals who do not have access to these tools, including the young and those who are not otherwise capable of protecting themselves.”

Gary L. Kreps, distinguished professor of communication and director of the center for health and risk communication, George Mason University, said, “Unless there are major public information technology policy changes that are designed to protect against organized misinformation campaigns, there will not be much progress in providing the public with information needed to participate meaningfully in making informed governance decisions. Efforts need to be made to identify organized misinformation efforts and remove them from the infosphere. Moreover, government agencies must aggressively identify misinformation perpetrators and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Automated review technologies can be employed to identify organized misinformation efforts, but strong policies and programs are needed to uproot these unethical communication practices.”

Jennifer Jarratt, co-principal of Leading Futurists LLC, wrote, “Almost all of our democratic and political systems are obsolete, based on old assumptions that mostly are not now valid. We need a new Constitution, for example. Digitization brings us wonderful tools, the potential of much data and new freedoms – we just don’t know how to use or work them yet. The years between now and 2030 will be our time to learn and adapt.”

Marshall Ganz, senior lecturer in public policy, Harvard University, said, “What conditions do we think can influence the use of tech in ways that can strengthen, weaken or have no impact on democracy? For me these conditions include political choices we actually make about the regulation of technology, about concentrations of power (and wealth) facilitated by ‘first user’ advantages when a new technology comes along, realistic control of campaign spending (almost infinite demand stimulated by profit-based use of new technologies), capacity of civic organizations to learn to use the tech to strengthen collective capacity rather than weaken it, etc. The combination of technological development that enhances aggregation of individual inputs, rather than the building of collective capacity, in the context of an increasingly unregulated marketization of politics, has been very problematic. I wrote a piece on this called ‘Voters in the crosshairs: How technology and markets are destroying politics,’ published in a 1994 American Prospect.”

Mark Jamison, a professor at the University of Florida and visiting scholar at American Enterprise Institute, previously manager of regulatory policy at Sprint, wrote, “Well-formed democratic institutions have proven to be quite robust through technological change. The greater challenge to institutions that are intended to protect our freedom is whether we will live with the integrity and character that is necessary for freedom to endure. Failure to live up to this challenge has caused other free peoples to lose their freedom over the centuries.”

Eline Chivot,
a public policy researcher for the Center for Data Innovation, commented, “Democratic processes and relations will no longer be about nations as a state actor or cities as their challengers and closed-door negotiations with national flags in the background. State actors will remain important, but democracies’ policymakers/officials will increasingly work based on the acknowledgement that there needs to be new partnerships between governments and industry/tech companies. These have taken on roles and sizes that are comparable to foreign policy actors. It’s an opportunity to share expertise and protect borderless societies, e.g., tech companies have the tech expertise, the data and the means to secure cyber infrastructure and help in preventing data breaches, election meddling or supporting police investigation.”

A leader for a foundation wrote, “If people take action – governments coordinate with tech companies to eliminate abusive practices; government provides unified, systematic protection against foreign as well as domestic attackers; users are better educated on the risks; users are responsible users of tech – then tech could significantly enhance core aspects of democratic institutions.”

Erhardt Graeff, a researcher who studies the design and use of technology for civic and political engagement at Olin College of Engineering, said, “Technology and its designers will continue to play a role in making this transformation in our democratic culture easier in some ways and harder in others. We simply cannot rely on technology for the democratic culture change we need. Democracy and democratic representation will be both strengthened and weakened by technology use over the next decade. The most important moves for reinforcing democracy during the next decade will likely be ideological and organizational rather than technological. Recent efforts by technology workers to organize themselves in protest to the policies, engineering decisions and business practices of their employers, which join increasingly vocal demands from the press and politicians to change their ways, should mean that technology culture starts to be more accountable to democratic public interest. One likely result is major technology companies will become more conservative in their design – less willing to dramatically change patterns of communication affecting democratic practice. This will hopefully reduce the ability of antidemocratic movements to amplify their efforts through platforms. But this will also likely lead to rollbacks of designs that allow pro-democratic movements to benefit from amplification. More mass movements advocating for democratic renewal are needed to actively resist antidemocratic trends in our systems of governance and the ways technology is used. These movements must focus on a broad-based organizing and alliance building to catalyze cultural changes that spread values and norms of democratic practice in ways that emphasize equity and social justice, such that we can work toward building and rebuilding democratic institutions that are more inclusive and robust.”

Knut Erik Solem, professor of environment, technology and social change, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said, “Liberal democracy will survive and likely outcompete all other sociopolitical systems provided it maintains and further develops its key element of empathy.”

Devin Fidler, futures strategist and founder of Rethinkery Labs, commented, “Social media technologies today are really still in their infancy. Research being done in areas like human computation and crowdsourcing and collective intelligence suggests that these systems can be greatly refined toward specific targets, including strengthening democratic governance. This is interesting because it allows us to design and optimize a new generation of organizational technologies that combine what we have learned about digital orchestration with generations-old thinking about designing institutions and governance mechanisms for specific outcomes. However, as with all large-scale business activities in history, legislation will be necessary to ensure that the public interest as a whole is protected when it is in conflict with financial motives. At a minimum, we need researchers to systematically identify the positive and negative externalities that these tools have on our organizational technologies and social operating systems. The Federalist Papers demonstrate that the framers of the U.S. Constitution explicitly saw the creation of the government as a design problem. As an ‘operating system,’ their design has been remarkably resilient. But it was not designed to support the organizational technologies that digital networks make possible and needs to be patched to avoid a crash. This redesign is a problem that Silicon Valley has many tools to help with. But is will take a civic mindset that Silicon Valley is less familiar with, rather than the venture capitalist-centric innovation model still at the center of the tech world today. Failure to integrate this wider ‘social operating system’ perspective will perpetuate techlash and ensure that the ‘bugs’ that new technologies are causing in society will only get worse.”

The president of a major foundation said, “If the tech giants can abandon their blatant political biases, their shallow, malevolent, surreptitious, crass manipulation of information and their heinous abuse of power, emerging digital horizons have a wonderful chance to allow every citizen a fresh new world of excellent journalism, opinion and commentary.”

Liberal democracy will survive and likely outcompete all other sociopolitical systems provided it maintains and further develops its key element of empathy.
Knut Erik Solem

An anonymous respondent commented, “One challenge is to not look at evolving uses of networked media by bad actors, but to look at larger structural issues that weaken competition. As with infrastructure and networked industry sectors (water, electricity, transportation, telephone), there may be advantages to large firms that allow them to obtain and exercise monopoly power. Looking at mechanisms such as structural separation of different activities may be one way to reduce the power of certain platform firms and also to reduce the political vulnerability that arises from such concentration.”

Jeremy Foote, computational social scientist and professor, Northwestern University, wrote, “It is tempting to think that the problems of technology that we have now will continue to be problems in the future. None of the problems that we have now – from privacy concerns to disinformation bots to polarization – seem tractable and amenable to technological and legal remedies. Despite the problems we have had, I still believe that the broader implications of the internet as a tool for connection and conversation and individual expression are more closely aligned with democracy. That is not to say that there are not other dangers. Facial recognition-enabled surveillance and artificial intelligence and simulated videos all pose real risks. However, I think the most likely outcome is that we find social, legal and technological compromises that allow us to gain some of the advantages of these technologies while avoiding their worst dangers. For example, while surveillance technologies dramatically reduce the costs of surveilling citizens, it is difficult to imagine a scenario whereby current democracies accept Big Brother-like surveillance. Democratic institutions are set up to identify and regulate these sorts of dangers, and, so far, they have been adequate in doing that.”

Scott MacLeod, associate professor of educational leadership at University of Colorado, Denver, wrote, “The importance of legal systems, especially regarding related information technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning, will play a very significant role. In terms of the ‘Network Society’ (per Manuel Castells) and democracy in the U.S. – and regarding Castells’ juxtaposition of Net and Self (e.g., diverse identities as voting groups), technology will continue to co-constitute a ‘liberal democracy with well-established and reasonably effective political institutions headed up by a credible system of electoral representation,’ supported especially by the U.S. legal system. Technology will change the following four democratic institutions by 2030: 1) Free, fair and frequent elections. 2) Freedom of expression. 3) Independent sources of information. 4) Freedom of association – mediated by information technology but safeguarded by the Constitution.”

Michael Muller, a researcher for a top global technology company focused on human aspects of data science and ethics and values in applications of artificial intelligence, said, “The U.S. and EU should recognize this threat as a major research opportunity, and should engage with academic, commercial and nonprofit partners to create effective early-warning systems and appropriate countermeasures. This research will need to include computer science, social science, political science and ethical issues as analyzed by multiple fields. The problem is at least as important as the long-term research funded by, e.g., NASA, and should be funded at the level of a ‘democratic space program,’ with enormous benefits to science, commerce and society.”

James Gannon, a cybersecurity and internet governance expert based in Europe, said, “Democracy is a process; processes are by their very nature subject to disruption both in the positive and negative. I believe, hope, that democracy in 2030 will be dealing with the fallout of the populist years, where nations realised that disinformation and intellectual warfare were dangerous concepts that drove democracy to the edge of viability. One possible scenario: In the 2020s an international effort was undertaken to establish norms for intergovernmental attacks (similar to the Geneva Conventions) that drove institutions to look at both operating more independent sources of information (such as the Irish Referendum Commissions) and that use of fact-checking and independent verifiability of critical information was defined as critical to a functioning democracy, NGOs and IGOs were established to assist with election security as an end-to-end process, with increasing standardisation globally, both reinforcing developed nations, and supporting developing nations. Technology played a critical role, with technology helping fight disinformation, and also a move away from vulnerable electronic voting systems, back to verifiable paper ballots.”

A psychologist, researcher and author wrote, “Right now, it is a dangerous situation. I fear that we will continue to lose control over even-handed delivery of truth, facts, objectivity. The polarization, nationalism and hate seem difficult to control, especially when used by current governments and parties. The popularity of several nationalist authoritarian leaders is frightening, and their use of tech to distort truth, lie and convert voters is powerful. This can only change with radical new tech ethics – something our current leaders undermine. If places like The Center for Humane Technology gain visibility and impact and there is a sea change in the polarization of previous allied countries, there is hope.”

Artur Serra, deputy director, i2CQT Foundation and Research Director of Citilab in Catalonia, Spain, wrote, “Democracy in 2030. 1) I expect the birth of the first democratic systems working with the basic rules of the Internet Engineering Task Force: ‘Rough consensus and running code.’ 2) Changes: I expect the birth of the first end-to-end democracies, based in a radical reduction of the central government role, the empowering of the edges of the political system, with a generation of a distributed political system. Only these systems can allow a climate of international collaboration native to the internet. 3) ‘Technology’s role.’ The role of the internet is to inspire how political systems of the 21st century could be organized and work nationally and globally. 4) No changes will mean an increasing control by new digital hyper-corporations on one side and a progression of digital authoritarian regimes on the other, ending probably in a final fragmentation of the internet.”

Scott Santens, an activist for basic income whose writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, TechCrunch, Vox and Politico, commented, “By 2030, unconditional basic income (UBI) should exist, which will have a significantly positive effect on democracy by reducing economic insecurity and enabling people with the mental space and time to be more civically engaged. I expect important reforms to have occurred, like ranked-choice voting, fair representation multi-member districts, automatic voter registration, open primaries and democracy dollars, so that technology utilization works better with democracy instead of against it. The rise of negative partisanship enables tech to influence democracy in negative ways, so making the changes necessary to reduce partisanship will change the way tech interacts with democracy for the better.”

Alexander Cho, digital media anthropologist and postdoctoral scholar expert in youth and social media at the University of California-Irvine, wrote, “Government entities as well as the private market need to actively develop process checks that come up to speed with the flow of information that digital media has enabled.”

Julie Cohen, professor of law and technology, Georgetown University, said, “Weakening is not inevitable, but there is a negative feedback loop resulting from underlying political polarization/gridlock/dysfunction, enhanced by current configurations of networked media optimized for ad revenue and time on device. That feedback loop needs to be disrupted in order to salvage democratic processes/institutions, evidence-based policymaking and the rule of law.”

Sharon Sputz, executive director, strategic programs, Columbia University Data Science Institute, said, “Technology can be used for good and evil, but I believe humanity will prevail. The spread of knowledge is enabled through technological advances. This spread of knowledge reduces oppression and increases our ability to raise the education and prosperity across the globe. The larger issue we face is the changes to our planet that will cause disparities.”

An economic development and social innovation consultant whose specialty is purpose-driven emerging tech said, “I expect the size, values and expectations of Gen Z as well as technological progress in the next decade to enable more direct participation, with the potential to augment, and in some cases to replace, aspects of representational models of government. Though much smaller in population, countries like Estonia have pioneered digital democracy initiatives that can be emulated.”

A distinguished fellow at a major futures consultancy said, “Democracy is a messy business. We can access, remember and amplify discussions at an unprecedented level. Our conversations are busier, louder and more likely to reflect emotion than informed thought. Who thought democracy should reflect the conversational norms of the upper-middle class? We will experience more chaos and ephemerality in the national exchange, some of which will be tweaked by hostile voices. It is important to recognize these patterns and intentionally reshape institutions so that we can keep moving forward.”

Daniel Rogers, cofounder of the Global Disinformation Initiative, wrote, “We are at a crossroads when it comes to the impact the internet will have over the next decade. The internet was founded by idealists who believed in transparency and the free exchange of information. That transparency and decentralization led to tremendous advancement, from the Arab Spring to the #MeToo movement. But the internet is no longer dominated by such idealism, and instead is dominated by the largest for-profit, ad-driven business models in history. Fundamentally, these business models are toxic. They turn the users into products that are commoditized and sold to a small number of marketers who control the pipes and the conversation at the expense of the users, their data and their privacy. These models reward increasingly divisive and toxic content, as that garners attention and keeps the users’ eyes on the screen. And as these behavior modification tools become more sophisticated and ubiquitous, they attract the employment by authoritarians around the world, shoring up the toxic business models in a vicious feedback loop. The good news is, we know this, and we can change it through strong privacy regulation, antitrust, strong content moderation and platform liability, and other regulatory and civic interventions. But such change will require political will, and I’m not yet convinced we have it. So, while I’m bullish on the long-term positive impact the internet will have on the world, I’m 50/50 on whether we make it there without destroying ourselves first.”

Anonymous respondents commented:

  • “Democratic institutions will be impacted by a much-needed change following a likely dramatically uncomfortable backlash about race, economic status and privilege.”
  • “It will require action by governments to utilize technology for good – but we are still in the early days of government implementing technology-driven approaches, and I am not optimistic government will move fast.”
  • “The strongest lever on the outcome of democracy will be the people who wield power to utilize and control these technologies and others. … The broad sociological and psychological manipulations that are made possible by the current state of these technologies are alarming and not to be dismissed.”

Lee McKnight, associate professor, Syracuse University School of Information Studies, commented, “Following the grand reveals of how undemocratically inclined billionaires (including, but not only, Putin) used data analytics and widespread internet platforms to manipulate the UK into Brexit and the U.S. into electing an unqualified president, I am optimistic for the future. The clear and present danger to democracy that technology-enabled manipulation of individual citizens and wider public opinion represents is now far better understood and more widely recognized. The UK cutting off its nose to spite its European/global face – at the behest of the out-of-the-shadows Mercer family, and of course the Russian oligarchy – will be an ongoing object lesson in the severe consequences of democracies letting their guard down. These recent ‘shocking’ lessons of the many mortal threats to democracy are really just common-sense ones from the past we are all painfully relearning. Use of technology to manipulate ‘public opinion and propaganda’ were widely understood and appreciated to be significant challenges in the 1930s, for example. But those lessons had been largely forgotten with the passage of time since World War II and the Cold War. Until now. Trust in democracy and civil society, however, can be rebuilt and extended throughout democracies also with the help of technology, as for example blockchained, tamper-proof voting records (plus old-fashioned paper receipts) will both trust and verify elections automatically by 2030. More generally, secure cloud-to-edge architectures can limit mischief and mayhem attempted to similarly manipulate cities, communities and states as was done to the UK and the U.S., whether attempted by ransomware gangs/firms, billionaires, firms or by nation-states, with people and technology thwarting attempted manipulation of democratic processes for undemocratic reasons.”

Alex Halavais, associate professor of critical data studies, Arizona State University, wrote, “There is a growing thirst for trustworthy reportage and data, and some are willing to pay a premium to get at the truth. Networked technologies may allow for new voices that revitalize public information. I fear that we may see a growing gap between voters who are basing their opinions on advertising-based media and those who can afford a direct subscription to less-biased sources of information.”

The spread of knowledge is enabled through technological advances. This spread of knowledge reduces oppression and increases our ability to raise the education and prosperity across the globe.
Sharon Sputz

Valdeane W. Brown, scientist and expert in biofeedback, Zengar Institute, wrote, “The simple truth is that ‘technology changes everything’ and the negative aspects of techlash are very similar in character to all prior technological advances, especially in relation to information dissemination. Look at the role played by Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ in the American Revolution, FDR’s use of radio for his ‘Fireside Chats’ and Kennedy’s performance in the first televised debates and Trump’s use of social media. While I disagree with the outcomes of that last effort, Trump effectively used the emergent technology and others didn’t – he succeeded; they failed. Disinformation and misinformation still inform, so it’s critically important to keep ALL forms of information flowing. The American Revolution and its push for independence was really only supported by less than 40% of the country and Thomas Paine and other writers of the day were an enormous support to that effort. We must do at least as well now and into the future.”

Gabriel Kahn, former bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, now a professor of journalism researching innovation economics in emerging media at the University of Southern California, wrote, “My hope is that the current backlash against the arrogance, concentrated power and lack of responsibility of big tech translates into some concrete regulatory action that levels the playing field. In addition, my hope is that all the attention given to this issue now creates a more sophisticated media consumer.”

Warren Yoder, longtime director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, now an executive coach, responded, “Much will change in the practice of representative democracy by 2030. Democracy is an ideal that must be substantiated in a particular practice. Representative democracy is the predominant practice now, but it is inherently fragile and must be re-formed every political generation. Winning political power in a representative democracy requires skills and resources that elites learn to control. But elites are prone to gradually isolating themselves in self-referential communities. The politicians, operatives and supporters all have much the same education, experiences and life chances. As times change, they lose the ability to create compelling accounts that represent the new reality. The Great Recession, several foolish wars and growing inequality created such a generational change. The digital world allows many new actors to participate in forming new accounts and competing for power. We are at a low point in the changeover, with populist leaders using digital media to command the political narrative. But this has happened many times in the past with pamphleteers, muckraking newspapers, radio, deregulated television. Each time the political world reformed itself with new elites that mastered the new world. The changeover is already happening. From the current low point things will get better, just in time for a new generational crisis beginning soon after 2030.”

E. Melanie Dupuis, chair and professor of environmental studies and science at Pace University, said, “There is no essential goodness or badness about this technology itself, only about the health of the civil society in which it is embedded. The forces threatening democracy in the U.S. existed long before the internet. Nativism, lynching, Jim Crow all existed before the internet. It was just easier to ignore. In many ways, the internet has provided a mirror that enables Americans to see who they truly are.”

Eileen Rudden, cofounder and board chair, LearnLaunch Inc., said, “Human beings are not governed by rationality, they are governed by their innate human animal tendencies. Technology is unleashing human tendencies that are not new; in the past they have been shaped and molded and constrained by community norms. Those norms have been ‘enforced’ by church, by community, by family. Many of the constraints on human behavior – shared community, religion, family – have been loosened over the past 50 years. Technology is enabling more people to express the bad human traits as well as the good. But the bad traits have no modifiers or constraints. While we have invented new technologies, we have not yet invented systems of social norms that work online. The issue is not the platforms, it is the people. These platforms have unleashed the people into a culture without restraint. How will we build new norms and cultures for this era? I don’t think regulating Facebook is the answer to this question.”

The program director of a university-based informatics institute said, “Human nature will drive technology use for individual benefit, not societal. Societal benefit needs some measure of altruism to effect positive change. Technologies are, however, leaning to catering to individual ‘likes’ and a ‘vote by click’ phenomenon. The two paths are divergent.”

Clifford Lynch, director, Coalition for Networked Information, said, “Democracy in the U.S. is clearly in serious trouble, but I don’t think that technology is the direct driver. Technology has facilitated or exacerbated many of the problems by facilitating tribalism, extremism and extreme partisanship, the easy spread of misinformation and disinformation, commerce in personal data and social media in particular has had a corrosive effect on some parts of the social fabric (though strengthening other parts) – but these problems run deeper than technology.”

A professor and director of a major UK-based foundation commented, “The architecture of social and digital media have developed without any sense of how they might be used. We spent 15 years thinking they were like infrastructure. Many academics were seduced (against the historical evidence) that this new form of media would be positive, enhance organisation and knowledge, make mobilisation easier and so on. They do, but they do so for ANY kind of value.… We don’t have any regulatory practices fit for controlling it. The architecture of communication now enhances like-minded solidarity and delegitimises opposition. People can live in self-righteous bubbles and, having made their minds up on issues, are sectarian and partisan and behave more like crowds. So, representative democracy is giving way to plebiscites and division.”

Amy Sample Ward, a director with the Nonprofit Technology Network, said, “The internet is a tool, not a solution. And I believe it to be a tool that can be used for transparency, visibility, connection and engagement. As such, it can be used for change, and change is essentially what democracy is about. I’m optimistic that as more and more people get online, we have more participants connecting and engaging, and more people (more diverse people) creating the technologies that support democracy.”

Garland McCoy, president, Technology Education Institute, said, “History is instructive in addressing the question. Think of the control over content the teletype companies like Western Union had. The power people like William Randolph Hearst had to impact news and J.P. Morgan financial markets. Think of privacy during the decades when folks shared ‘party lines’ or lived in small communities for generations never venturing far from home. We have been here before and will use the tools of ever advancing technology to get the information we need from sources we trust. Good old fashioned ‘analog’ ‘walking around money’ still impacts elections far more than the digital internet social media and search platforms.”

Gianluca Demartini, senior lecturer in data science, University of Queensland, wrote, “Information and communication technologies have been influencing democracy since its existence. Newspapers, television and later the web as a means to receive information has shaped our decision-making processes. Over time, available information has increased and our decision-making processes have adapted. In future, processes will be affected more as more technology-supported information will be available. Society will adapt to this increasing amount of information.”

Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor of online learning, University of Illinois Springfield, wrote, “Our democracies will look much the same in 2030. They will be enhanced by online voting and will be strengthened by secure technologies. We have faced many deception challenges over the years – from political cartoons and yellow journalism in the pre-internet era to ‘photoshopping,’ trolling, spamming and other ‘dirty tricks’ strategies of more recent years. Truth is resilient and durable. It has persevered through those times and will do so again in the face of more technologically sophisticated assaults – and so will it and democracy upon which truth is dependent.”

Working for good: Governments, enlightened leaders and activists will help steer policy and democratic processes to produce better democratic outcomes

Ryan Sweeney, director of analytics, Ignite Social Media, commented, “As I see it, the largest factor in how we look as a democracy in 2030 comes down to the actions of elected leaders and the citizens they represent. I would expect that in the next decade there will be shifts back and forth. Technology can be an instrumental tool of revolution in the same way it can be an instrumental tool in oppression. We as citizens will continue to use emerging technology to make our voices heard while those in power will attempt to leverage technology to work for them.”

Deana A. Rohlinger, a professor of sociology at Florida State University whose expertise is political participation and politics, said, “The technology pendulum, which swings back and forth much faster than the political pendulum, is headed in the direction of increased governmental regulation of the technology companies frantically avoiding the ‘media company’ label. Facebook, Amazon, Google and others will be forced to be better actors in marketplace – and unlike previous public debates regarding the role of media in deliberative processes – the discussions and resulting policies will explicitly address the role of information and ICTs in democratic institution building.”

Citizens will exercise democracy through ad hoc social movements coordinated online.
Social informatics expert

Chrissy Zellman, a manager of digital and interactive strategy in the health care industry, commented, “First and foremost, the dynamics and makeup of Congress needs to change before 2030 in order to better protect, regulate and govern technologies. In the 116th Congress, only 10% had a degree in a STEM field. If you want to protect democracy you need to have Congress members and staff who are well-versed in technology. … To protect our democracy, we also need to ensure that there is always transparency and access to information – which is why we must fight to protect net neutrality. Better safeguards are needed to protect against inaccurate information, as well as doctored videos and misinformation.”

Serge Marelli, an IT professional based in Luxembourg who works on and with the net, wrote, “Fake news is overpowering people’s attention, and it is becoming more difficult for real, factual news (‘truth’) to reach people. People chose to give fake news more credit; they somehow choose to distrust the ‘official,’ the ‘old-media’ institutions, just like they give credit to too many conspiracy theories, failing to recognise where the ‘truth’ actually is. Technology cannot replace a good, critical education and an astute mind, and the Dunning-Kruger effect [people’s tendency to believe their cognitive ability is greater than it is] is powerful. Technology is a tool. It can, it could be used in a positive manner to strengthen most aspects of democracy and for citizens, using their democratic rights. For instance, citizens might be better informed; they might get a more complete access to information. Use of computers and computer networks might make it possible for people in remote locations to vote, or they might make counting votes more efficient and faster. It can also be used in a negative way that weakens the use of citizens’ democratic powers. Most recent news tends to show that the negative outweighs the positive.”

An expert in social informatics based in Denmark predicted, “Representative democratic institutions will remain mostly under control of elites and become increasingly irrelevant. Citizens will exercise democracy through ad hoc social movements coordinated online. Economic coordination will shift toward cryptocurrencies, making state-sponsored money less important.”

Benjamin Shestakofsky, a University of Pennsylvania professor and researcher focused on the impact of digital life on labor and employment wrote, “The future of democratic institutions will depend on the willingness and ability of legislators and regulators to protect them from the monopoly power of tech companies.”

Amali De Silva-Mitchell, a futurist and consultant participating in multistakeholder, global internet governance processes, commented, “There is great opportunity; how it is managed is where the risks are. Freedom of expression for all is critical for good democracy, judgment, decision-making and effective public transparency. Care has to be taken in regard to skewing of data responses and associated analysis, fake data and the other issues now commonly discussed transparently.”

Art Brodsky, a self-employed consultant, said, “We should shut down social media for 90 days before an election. The forces of corrupting disruption overwhelm the ability of civil discourse to keep up. Some play by the rules, others don’t, and there’s no means of enforcement. Facebook, Twitter, etc., have grown far beyond their ability to detect, much less bar, bad actors.”

Christian Schoon, external foresight consultant at Future Impacts, based in Germany, expressed hope that there will be change by the 2030s, writing, “Established democracies are very stolid. Political or systematical innovations in those bureaucracies need a lot of time to become mainstream. Furthermore, digital and technology innovations are too fast for those established systems. Those technology and digital innovations are driven by economic interests. The core logic is to maximize financial growth. Political and economic leaders generally think in short-term horizons when making decisions. If they would take a long-term perspective, they might see challenges they could solve today. The next decade will be a time of learning for political systems. After 2030/2035, democratic systems will have a comeback with participative, inclusive and core democratic solutions based on an ethical application of technology and artificial intelligence. One driving factor will be the vast gap between the poor and the rich, between well- and less-educated societal groups or between migrants and original populations or established immigrants.”

Donald Codling, a consultant in international cybersecurity and internet policy who previously worked for the FBI for 23 years, wrote, “Given centuries of contentious human nature with the ‘modern’ version of tribalism embedding itself among many communities worldwide and the unsurprising conflicts that will inevitably arise from these tensions, plans must be made by society to deploy trained observers and vetted/trusted monitoring technologies to notice and respond to attempts to alter the collective will of the people. Assuming, of course, that humans will be able to ‘trust’ what they see, hear and read 10 years from now – the technology disinformation/deepfake ‘Catch 22’ is here!”

Milton Mueller, professor of internet policy, Georgia Tech, governance expert, warned that regulation is a double-edged sword, writing, “Social media is controversial in part precisely because it does increase and broaden communication and representation of different views. It is possible that reasonable modifications in laws, policies and technology will deal with some of the abuses of social media over the next 10 years. It is also possible, however, that techlash will result in more censorship and restrictions on speech that will undermine democracy.”

Banning Garrett, an independent consultant and futurist, said, “2030 is a decade away and much will change in the meantime, including both technology (capabilities, regulations, impact) and politics, which is changing at an exponential rate. The current impact of authoritarianism, populism and nationalism is already generating a strong backlash that could lead to a paradigm shift in politics, while the tech companies and regulators may find ways to diminish the impact of bad actors.”

Alex Simonelis, a professor of computer science at a university based in Canada, said, “I’m optimistic, and I recognize that my optimism may turn out to be wrong. I assume and hope that the tech corporations will be regulated – e.g., repeal Communications Decency Act section 230 so they can be sued when they misbehave.”

A postdoctoral scholar studying the relationship between governance, public policy and computer systems said, “In order to realize the benefits while managing the risks, it is important that policymakers establish rules that work to support democratic interests and limit incentive structures that work to entrench existing power dynamics. Regulation is critical to establishing public trust. Technology holds great promise in increasing democratic representation, bringing the ability to scale contact between governments and citizens and enabling individual-level provisioning of services as well as easier communication and collaboration between representatives and those they represent. By 2030, governments will have had the opportunity to reap the benefits not just of computerization, but of connectivity and the internet in understanding the needs and desires of their citizens and provisioning policy and services in response.”

Rick Lane, a future-of-work strategist and consultant, wrote, “The question for the tech community is do they want help make the internet safe, secure and sustainable for all or do they just want to bury their heads in the sand? For our democracy and democratic institutions, the status quo is not acceptable. There were those of us in the early days of social networks who tried to create ethical and community standards. That effort was completely rejected by Facebook, YouTube and others. Some of us saw that we were given a great opportunity with the Section 230 immunity protections to create a better social networking and internet environment. Others wanted to ‘move fast and break things’ or argue that ‘we are just online platforms and thus not responsible for what happens on our sites.’ Well, we have seen the outcome of those actions on our democratic institutions and democracy, which is why I am a strong advocate for amending Section 230 to get it back to its original purpose. Although the voices around amending Section 230 are getting louder and louder, there is a concerted effort by Google, Facebook, Twitter, NetChoice, the Internet Association, Engine, CCIA and other groups to try to confuse the issue. If they are successful, then our democratic institutions and the future of our U.S. democracy will be put at risk. But history is on our side and changes will be made (see FOSTA-SESTA legislation).”

Assisting reforms: Pro-democracy governance solutions will be aided by the spread of technology and innovations like artificial intelligence. Those will work in favor of trusted free speech and greater citizen empowerment

Kenneth A. Grady, adjunct professor and affiliate of the Center for Legal Innovation, Michigan State University, commented, “Democracy will become more transparent as technology advances. Citizens will have greater insight into the actions and omissions of elected representatives. They also will be able to see the effects of actions and omissions across a broader swath of society. These changes will come from greater access to data and from new tools that will analyze and present the data in ways that make it more available to citizens.”

Osvaldo Larancuent, a professor based in the Dominican Republic with expertise in the governance of cyberspace, said, “The fundamentals of democracy will change as more citizens will demand more commitment and responsibility from governments, using digital tools and platforms that will allow better monitoring of their execution. What aspects of essential democratic institutions will change? The transparency of promises, public policies and execution of goals, and the improvement of governance based on social inclusion and crowdsourced participation enabled by specialized digital platforms. What role will technology play in whatever changes take place? More smart participation of communities in different aspects of democracy, promoting social inclusion and, via the evolution of social media networks, digital platforms to allow a more granulate participation in the institutions. More information available, and better monitoring of results achieved.”

Joshua New, senior policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said, “Technology has the potential to massively increase the responsiveness and participatory nature of government, leading to a more informed and engaged citizen population. The many concerns that people have about the impact about technology on democracy – misinformation, deleterious effects of social media, and so on – are neither fundamentally technological problems nor are they inevitable.”

Terri Horton, workforce futurist with FuturePath LLC, wrote, “Broad access to artificial intelligence systems and advanced technologies across society can facilitate the democratization of civic innovation by 2030. Particularly, civic innovation aimed at solving some of the most complex social challenges related to work and employability may mitigate the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on people, reimagined careers and the future of work.”

Kenneth Cukier, senior editor at The Economist and coauthor of “Big Data,” commented, “We are starting to see incredible civic action, public deliberative forums and public voting on budgets on the municipal level all based around digital technologies. These will increase. No matter how appalling governance is at the national level, and inept at the international level, we will see a revival of good governance at the local level in large part by technologies that let people express themselves, be in dialogue with others and monitor and track government activities.”

Overall, I expect use of technology to continue to improve civic engagement.
Harold Feld

Yves Mathieu, co-director, Missions Publiques, Paris, France, responded, “There are great chances that more transparency will create more dialogues between elected citizens and voters, between elections. The elected citizens will not have the possibility anymore to vote for their constituency without having an interaction prior to the vote or the decision process. The work of the elected persons will be totally changed.”

Stephen Abram, managing principal, Lighthouse Consulting, wrote, “I see the two polarities. I see the U.S. doing little to deal with their election interference by foreign actors. On the other hand, other countries outside of the G20 are having their public discourse democratized and opening up criticism of poor or bad governments. On the whole, on a global basis I think technology is a force for good. If I had to answer the question from a strictly U.S.-centric point of view, I’d say for the period through 2030 we will see a steady weakening of democracy as foreign actors, the Supreme Court, etc. weaken rights and public discourse.”

Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, said, “I expect technology to continue to reshape how democratic institutions and civic engagement work. What we have seen in recent years has been similar to other stages of evolution of services over the internet. Bad actors learn how to manipulate systems based on trust and user ignorance. But we are already seeing successful pushback. Overall, I expect use of technology to continue to improve civic engagement.”

A longtime engineer and architect for several of the world’s foremost technology companies said, “Democracy will move online, just as so many other aspects of life – from shopping to banking to doctor’s visits to education to renewing a driver’s license – have done. Voter suppression based on economic and geographical limits will become ineffective. Yes, online voting presents the risk of electronic vote tampering, but it’s also an opportunity for transparency and security.”

Jon Lebkowsky, CEO, founder and digital strategist, Polycot Associates, wrote, “It’s tempting to say that technology will weaken democracy, based on current events. However, I’d rather speak to the potential, which is that intelligent and effective use of technologies to inform the electorate and support civic debate could make democracy stronger. We have a lot of work ahead for this to be the case, and we probably have to rethink the case for ‘social media’ as it stands today.”

Greg Shatan, a lawyer with Moses & Singer LLP and self-described ‘internet governance wonk,’ wrote, “I believe the capacity for technology to improve the ability to obtain information, to vote, to express yourself and to engage with others is largely positive and will come in ‘off-web’ ways that use the internet as a means of carriage. That said, we are in a difficult place with regard to misinformation, radicalization and manipulation using the web, particularly social media. The values of free speech tolerance are being tested even as ‘free speech’ is being co-opted … for purposes of intolerance.”

Richard Culatta, CEO of ISTE and a futurist and consultant, suggested, “If we continue down our current path, democracy will be eroded through digital misinformation campaigns and technology that reinforces our existing viewpoints by limiting exposure to ideas that are different from our own. However, I’m optimistic that we can still change this outcome by starting a national conversation to redefine digital citizenship and actively model the use of technology to rebuild democracy.”

A senior lecturer in computer science wrote, “I expect significant improvements over the next decade, mostly in countries where democratic institutions are weaker. We can see some of this effect occurring in notoriously undemocratic countries even now, as authoritarians make concessions to popular demands, concessions that would have been unthinkable decades ago. Although technology has harmed advanced democracies like the U.S., these harms so far have been relatively mild by comparison.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “On the global scale, technology will overall increase the democratic involvement and reach of citizens, especially in the developing world as increased globalization and involvement from key players like the U.S. and EU nations encourage transparency.”

Jim Cashel, author of “The Great Connecting: The Emergence of Global Broadband and How That Changes Everything,” said, “In the U.S., internet technologies will both strengthen and weaken democratic institutions over the next decade. From a global perspective, however, internet technologies will greatly strengthen democratic institutions. Three billion people globally currently have no internet – but soon will. Internet satellite and other technologies will be blanketing the planet in broadband in the next few years. For those that until now have had no voice whatsoever, the arrival of the internet will be transformative.”

A professor of digital culture based in Nigeria said, “New media technologies are gradually transforming political cultures and promoting some tenets of good governance such as accountability, transparency, participatory democracy and credible electoral process. My studies on the use of technology in Nigerian democratic practice have shown that democratic institutions in the Global South may be significantly affected in new ways by technology in the next few years. For instance, the emergence and use of new media in 2011, 2015 and 2019 electoral cycles in Nigeria have significantly increased. Political actors, candidates, political parties, state actors, nongovernmental organisations and private citizens are increasingly relying on social media platforms and other mobile technologies to amplify their voices, sell their policies and mobilise support, and engage with elected leaders. The electoral-management office has also been using new technologies for education, information and mobilisation. Of course, these positive results are not without some of the downside of technologies in democratic practice. Instances of false alarms, hate speech and flaming conversations are promoted through unmoderated online platforms. But, to my mind, technologies have done more good than harm to the development of democratic practice.”

Tomslin Samme-Nlar, consultant in technology security and policy based in Cameroon, wrote, “Citizens and civil society will try to use technology to improve debate on issues and to inform more citizens about issues. Technology will be used more and more to express dissenting views on government policy positions. And governments and politicians will look for and attempt to use innovative uses of technology to suppress dissent and promote propaganda.”

Ellery Biddle, an advocacy director for Global Voices whose specialty is protection of online speech and fundamental digital rights, said, “I suspect that in spite of all the negative effects of networked technologies on democracy and democratic institutions and norms worldwide, access to networked technologies is still having a net positive effect on peoples’ abilities to engage with democratic institutions and processes. As a person who works primarily on these issues in the Global South, the issue of disinformation is hardly new to me, and the potential for companies like Facebook to manipulate information and enable state actors to manipulate information at a large scale is not novel either. But when I look at parts of the world where access to technology is still rising and has yet to plateau, I am constantly reminded of how big of a game changer these tools can be, despite their limitations. Last week, a colleague in Ethiopia (who is a well-known civil society activist) tweeted a positive message about LGBT pride. He got a few hundred responses, most of which were negative, but some were not. Another colleague swiftly pointed out that this, in spite of the vitriol it triggered, was a sign of real progress for online discussion of LGBT issues in Ethiopia. Before, she noted, you could not even speak of it. In many parts of the world, the internet is still enabling speech and engagement in ways that are literally not possible in ‘real life’ public spaces. In my view, this is where democracy begins. So, I have some hope.”

John Carr, a leading global expert on young people’s use of digital technologies, a former vice president of MySpace, commented, “The internet is likely to improve our democratic processes running up to 2030, but only because I believe things are currently so bad they are bound to improve. Democratic legislatures around the world simply will not tolerate or allow there to be any reasonable doubt about the legitimacy of the outcome of those processes which form the cornerstone of how we live, namely elections and referenda. The ‘foundation stories’ of a great many countries frequently turn on how its people won universal suffrage and the right to determine their own affairs free of the influence of an imperial or foreign power. Silicon Valley right now looks like a foreign imperial power in a great many jurisdictions.”

Kevin Carson, an independent scholar on issues of post-capitalist and post-state transition, wrote, “Networked communications will continue reinforcing the trend toward self-organized, horizontalist movements and the proliferation of access to alternative news outside traditional gatekeeping institutions, as well as toward distrust of traditional leaders. It’s true that in recent years the right (especially alt-right offshoots from GamerGate) has seen part of the benefit from these trends, alongside horizontalist movements of the left like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL and the various municipalist movements in Barcelona, et al. But I am hopeful that … we’ll see a real tipping point in the next decade, and governance will become more open.”

Eric Vance, director, Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis, University of Colorado-Boulder, commented, “With the advent of blockchain-like security, we should be able to vote via internet or sign petitions that way or make comments to be entered into the public record. These things will help strengthen democracy.”

Herbert Gintis, external professor, Santa Fe Institute, and professor of economics, Central European University, said, “New technology will advance science and expose corruption and bigotry.”

Thierry Gaudin, cofounder and president, France 2100 Foundation, wrote, “The internet develops and widens the information of the citizen at local, national and international levels. Therefore, awareness is increased. Local democracy will benefit, as will concern of citizens regarding environmental and planetary issues. Up to now, democracy has functioned through elections of representatives. Only in rare cases, votes have been used to approve or disapprove a project. Webocracy allows public consultations on projects and that might bypass some corruption. The web may also contribute to the revival of local cultures and traditions.”

Tim Bray, well-known technology leader who has worked for Amazon, Google and Sun Microsystems, wrote, “Our societal and online ugliness is a phase that we can transcend and indeed will be forced to in order to pull together and survive the devastation wrought by the climate crisis. Whereas most of us would do anything to stave off the worst effects, some of those effects have become unavoidable, and the pain will be only slightly ameliorated by knowledge that the crisis is a forcing function that will require that we learn to distinguish real science-backed news from fake charlatanry, in the face of existential threat.”

New technology will advance science and expose corruption and bigotry.
Herbert Gintis

Ibon Zugasti, futurist, strategist and director, Prospektiker, wrote, “If technology is used in the right way, it will contribute to a better monitoring and control of public policies by civil society.”

Frank Feather, president, AI-Future, said, “Elections will and should be conducted electronically, online. Public opinions will be sought through online surveys, not just in general but by way of consultation about prospective legislation. However, such a democratic online platform must be 100% secure in terms of data, shared opinions and privacy. Anyone caught tampering with such a system should be severely punished.”

David Wilkins, instructor of computer science, University of Oregon, said, “The internet gives a voice to those ignored by a well-educated media who have massive implicit biases against any who are significantly less formally educated.”

John Paschoud, elected politician of the Lewisham Council (a London borough), wrote, “Technologies (e-voting, e-referenda, managed social media and e-fora) will enable more people to participate in a meaningful and thoughtful way. But some technologies (which make it too easy to influence democratic representatives or encourage thinking that all issues are best decided by a simple majority vote) may either be regulated, or will be dealt with in more automated ways by elected representatives, thus nullifying the advantage they seem to offer.”

Frederico Links, a journalist, governance researcher and activist based in Africa, said, “Technology, specifically communications tech, has already significantly changed democratic practice and institutions, both positively and negatively. This mixed effect will only continue to play out over the decade to 2030, especially in still-emergent democracies and transitional societies. In some the effect could be more good than bad; in others it could be more bad than good. What is definitely happening everywhere is that people are more and more using the technologies, such as social media platforms, to find their voice and express themselves. As the tech becomes ever more pervasive, especially in developing societies, there will be disruptions to vertical power structures, which could lead to destabilisation of some societies, and could lead to increased democracy in others. On the whole, I think it leans more to the positive, as the pressures are many on state authorities everywhere to become more responsive and accountable, while everywhere there appears to be a tech-mediated awakening of political consciousness, which I don’t think will be quelled or repressed, despite the best efforts of many authoritarian-minded actors also trying to use the tech to attempt mass control and manipulation.”

Stephan G. Humer, lecturer expert in digital life, Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences, Berlin, commented, “Empowerment of people will be stronger than the negative aspects. In terms of educational impact alone, the internet will be more positive than negative. Online learning will be much more positive, with more possibilities for everyone.”

Scott Burleigh, principal engineer at a major U.S. agency, said, “Technology is likely to strengthen democratic institutions by providing voters with more information and eventually making it easier to participate in elections, possibly increasing turnout. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing, as it will make it easier for misinformed voters to swing elections in ways that are not constructive. But there has never been any guarantee that strengthening democratic institutions will, in itself, strengthen society.”

Kevin Doyle Jones, cofounder, GatherLab, which convenes visionary people looking to transform climate, communities and capital for good, said, “Collective action is necessary for us to respond effectively to climate change, across neighborhoods. I have more hope of that bubbling up from cities to the state governments and I hope even the federal governments. Watersheds and foodsheds and economic biospheres are key, and to keep the good from being the enclave of the few, with water-poor shantytowns outside for the others, we will need to understand and act on the protocols of neighborliness. See https://solutions.sphaera.world/building-blocks/walter-brueggmann-on-neighborliness.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The internet essentially constitutes the essence of true democracy – a free world where people of any tribe, color, poor or rich, young or old can express their hearts and minds unreservedly, unstoppably. Every aspect of our social, political, economic and cultural activities is well captured and represented in the internet. … With the internet, democracy has been exposed and questioned of its true essence to address and meet the expectations of social need. There has never been any good concept that could not be perverted for the wrong, mischievous, selfish purpose, and the internet is not immune to such damaging activities. What this will foster is a technological commitment to thwarting those negative forces and restoring the internet to its rightful place in our society. This should constitute the commitment of the next decade in the use of the internet.”

Andrea Romaoli Garcia, an international tax lawyer actively involved with multistakeholder activities of the International Telecommunication Union and Internet Society, wrote, “The fourth industrial revolution will inaugurate a sixth dimension of human rights and introduce technologies that will impact human evolution in all fields. There will be a new model of democracy: neo-constructivist democracy. The new, hyperconnected consumerist society will actively work to establish and monitor ethical standards that will strengthen the pillars of democracy.”

Prateek Raj, assistant professor in strategy, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, an economics expert, wrote, “Technology cannot be studied independently without considering the concentration of power. Of course, technology has had profoundly positive effects on civic activism in many parts of the world. It is bringing about a major transformation in governance in developed countries like India by making essential government services more accessible. However, we live in a world of digital monopolies where a large chunk of information is being funneled through a few, like Google and Facebook. These organizations are primarily driven by advertising revenue and aim to maximize user engagement. To achieve these, their algorithms can prioritize visceral content (e.g., YouTube suggestions), over content of public interest. Even encrypted platforms like WhatsApp have been notoriously associated with the spread of rumors, hate and misinformation, which is closely linked to their design architecture, which allows easy formation of large groups. There is a need to relook at the algorithms and architecture used by these digital giants, so the internet can fulfill its positive social purpose. … As the public and regulators wake up to the harms of these platforms, we can expect timely steps.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Yes, the internet will be used to violate human rights and commit atrocities. But it will and does also enable humanity to connect and grow as never before. It is a new form of adversity that humanity must rise and adapt to.”

A vice president and strategist for a company that manages crisis operations wrote, “All signs today highlight the fraying effect that social media technologies in particular have had – and are having – on social cohesion and democratic discourse. We are seeing growing pressure on governments to intervene, and key pioneers of these technologies expressing dismay for the effects they are having. … It is reasonable to expect that we will see considerable advances over the next 10 years to address the negative effects of Web 2.0.”

The leader of an innovation group at one of the world’s top five technology organizations wrote, “For democracy to survive, we must figure out how to bring transparency and accountability while also preventing tyrannical control. This will require deep changes to the ways we build and deploy technology.”

Anonymous respondents commented:

  • “By 2030 we will see more open democracies around the world and technology will continue to evolve to deliver more and more services to citizens (i.e., e-health, smart cities, smart water).”
  • “A wide range of both official and unofficial transparency and open-government initiatives will make information about the activities of government more open than ever before.”
  • “Many political parties will struggle with no longer being a default intermediary, and this poses difficulties with maintaining a single unified and coherent policy platform; in democracies with a relatively small number of major parties, this may be a seismic shift.”
  • “The biggest role technology will play will be to increasingly provide a catalytic surface for people sharing a perspective to find each other and begin working together.”
  • “I hope democracy in 2030 will feature a clearer understanding of what citizens want from their government, individually and collectively.”
  • “Decision-making by essential democratic institutions, and attribution to the individuals who are involved in making those decisions, should become more transparent with the availability of social media.”
  • “I expect more real-time, responsive engagement from government, community leaders and citizens through digital media, more virtual attendance at community board meetings and Parent Teacher Association gatherings, simultaneous-translation capacities and symbolic voting/polling to gauge direction if not investment in local government.”

“The ability to meet people virtually and to hear their voices will vastly expand the opportunities for cross-border collaborative efforts and empathy that was simply not possible in a previous age.”