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Frenk Hosts Knight Foundation Conversation, Experts Discuss Democracy and Technology

President Julio Frenk, in conjunction with the Knight Foundation, hosted a series of panels Monday on the relationship between democracy and technology at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Photo credit: Patrick McCaslin

Miami, a developing technology center frequently referred to as the “Capital of Latin America”, is at the center of technological evolution and American politics.

The “Knight Conversation on Miami at the Intersection of Technology and Democracy” hosted a number of panelists for a discussion of the role of technology in democracy, particularly in the Americas, followed by a brief period of questions and answers. The event took place Monday morning at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

University of Miami President Julio Frenk hosted the event, delivering several opening and closing remarks.

“I have often noted that ours is not just a university in Miami, but the University of Miami,” Frenk said. “At a time when we can all feel the excitement of this cosmopolitan city’s role as a global technology hub, our role as a comprehensive research university becomes essential.”

Famed Miami Herald columnist and CNN political analyst Andres Oppenheimer moderated the event.

Other panelists included Rony Abovitz, co-founder of MAKO and founder of Magic Leap; Jaret Davis, technology attorney in the Miami office of Greenberg Traurig PA; Dr. June Teufel Dreyer, professor of political science at UM and a leading expert on China; Carlos Trujillo, former United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States and Yelena Yesha, Knight Foundation Chair in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Institute for Data Science and Computing from the University of Miami.

Panels discussed the diffusion of computing power, the role of technology in democracy, the legal framework for technology regulation, the state of autocracy and democracy in the Americas, and the influence of China, respectively.

The first panel defined the term “computer democracy”. Abovitz discussed the tendency of technology to concentrate its power in the hands of a few individuals and prompted a call for a greater spread of power.

“You have a very small group of people who control a huge amount of computing power that really drives the amount of computing today,” Abovitz said.

This is called centralized computing. In contrast, distributed computing gives more power to the individual. For example, Apple’s creation of personal computers in the 1970s gave users privacy and power.

He pointed out that computational democracy is particularly relevant following Elon Musk’s announcement of his intention to acquire Twitter. Abovitz called for a move towards computer democracy away from computer autocracy.

The second panel spoke about the potential of technology to defend democracy, particularly in light of its threat to democracy through misinformation.

Yesha spoke about the potential of blockchain technology to combat the spread of misinformation by identifying the origin of news and therefore the verifiability of news.

“It’s not easy but it’s doable,” Yesha said.

After the discussion on the technology used to defend democracy, the third panel detailed the legal framework of this technology.

Davis introduced the National Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act, a recently passed law that creates an office and committee to advise on the current state of U.S. AI competitiveness and leadership.

“It’s safe to say that whatever initiative we develop, including the second part of the Philadelphia Convention, has congressional clearance to the extent that we can get it through this new office and these new advisory committees. “Davis said.

The second part of the Philadelphia Convention to which he refers is a framework of laws that combat computer autocracy, in the same way that the founding fathers of the United States fought the autocracy of Great Britain.

The fourth panel, Democracy in Latin America, examined the reasons for the decline of democracy in Latin America and the influence of technology on this trend. This topic is particularly relevant in Miami, a city with large Cuban and Venezuelan diasporas and a hub of Latin political affairs.

Trujillo identified some of the shortcomings of the United States in its policy towards Latin America, including the ambivalent attitudes of different presidents, a blind preference for capitalism and liberal democracy, and the lack of economic ties with many countries.

At the same time, China has strengthened its economic ties and political influence in the Americas, particularly through technology.

“For years, the American approach was that democracy and free market capitalism were the only option in Latin America. Over the past 20 years, with the influx of China, the alternative is now some kind of totalitarian government with a more or less free market approach controlled by some oligarchs. It has become the dominant thought throughout Latin America,” Trujillo said.

The fifth and final panel reviewed China’s role in democracy and technology in Latin America.

Dreyer drew attention to the proliferation of Huawei, China’s state-owned telecommunications infrastructure; investments in bridges, dams and roads and the “patria notebook”, a catch-all credit card issued by the Chinese government. Thanks to these tools, China has considerably increased its political and economic influence in Latin America.

The conversation ended with references to the upcoming “Summit of the Americas” in Los Angeles and ways the Summit can address some of the issues previously discussed.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, former congresswoman and special advisor to the Summit of the Americas, described her hopes for the Summit.

“The Summit of the Americas provides a unique moment to present a compelling vision, as a hemisphere, of how we can positively use technology in a way that serves our citizens, promotes opportunity and inclusion, protects our privacy and elevates our highest democratic values,” Mucarsel-Powell said.