Stanford University


Recap: Decentralized Society | Digitization, Democracy, and Civil Discourse

by Angela Chen

Stanford Digital Economy Lab Fall 2022 Conference
Stanford University
October 7, 2022

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The one-day event examined the challenges of web2 technologies and explored how web3 technologies could address them

Digitization has changed our economic, social, and political infrastructure irrevocably, centralizing and codifying our knowledge and challenging our institutions and norms. It has also given rise to misinformation, disinformation, polarization, and a succession of other challenges to civil society. With the recent drive toward decentralization, social media, interest and affinity groups, communities, news media, and other institutions and platforms face various challenges and opportunities enabled by AI, web3, and emerging technologies.

On October 7, 2022, the Stanford Digital Economy Lab brought together leaders from industry, civil society, and academia for Decentralized Society: Digitization, Democracy, and Civil Discourse, an event to discuss the promise and peril of decentralized digital architecture for our political and economic systems. 

During the event, speakers addressed a question often debated by academics and civil society alike: “What is it about web2 technology that poses a challenge to democracy, and how can emerging technologies protect it?” Current web2 technology promotes great velocity, virality, and volume of information transfer, exacerbated by anonymity and echo chambers. The strength and reach of social media platforms have turned private companies into de-facto regulators, and consequently, has given them more influence than governments over democratic participation and free speech. 

Decentralized platforms may address some of these challenges and return more control to the hands of users over their data, the information they consume, and how they choose to participate in democratic institutions. However, these platforms require society to address a series of questions:

  • – Who will own the data — individuals, companies, or another party?
  • – If data becomes an asset class, what does it mean for your personal life, society, and the economy?
  • – Who will build the core protocols, and how will they be built?
  • – How do we maintain the benefits of network effects in a decentralized system?
  • – How will people be incentivized to adopt web3?
  • – Who will govern web3 and how can we strike a balance between regulation and innovation?
  • – What can we do now to protect democracy and privacy as the new infrastructure is being built?

The event was the first of two fall gatherings focused on decentralized digital architecture, in which the Lab explores the impact of AI and digital infrastructure on society by examining key questions, such as governance strategies, privacy paradigms, business models, and content moderation systems.

Curious to learn more? Register for Building the New Economy: Data as Capital, which will take place on November 17, 2022, from 10:00 am to 5;00 pm PT at Stanford University. Part of Stanford Digital Assets Week, this special event will examine the feasibility and implications of human-centered web3, including the role of collective citizen organizations in managing the way data is controlled. Participants will also explore resilient and inclusive systems that spread financial and health benefits and the possibilities we unlock when systems are interoperable so that knowledge, trade, and interaction can flow across company and national boundaries.

“When knowledge is codified and digitized, it becomes alienable and potentially centralized. In turn, centralizing essential assets centralizes bargaining power. Concentration of economic power begets concentration of political power.”

Erik Brynjolfsson

Erik Brynjolfsson

Director, Stanford Digital Economy Lab

Information Assets, Technology, and Organization, 1994. Brynjolfsson and Ng, 2022

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