Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy

2020 – 2025


About

The Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy is the inaugural node in a planned international network of academic programs established to rebalance power and restore agency in a world dominated by digital platforms. The network is funded by Minderoo Foundation, a major Australian philanthropy committed to challenging unfairness and building opportunity.

The Centre's blog is power-switch.org

The Centre will work in tandem with other network nodes, which as of August 2020, include:

  • The Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy (University of Cambridge);
  • The Minderoo Tech & Policy Lab (University of Western Australia) with associated projects initially at the University of Sydney, the Australian National University, and the Australian Academy of Science;
  • The Minderoo Initiative on Technology and Power (University of California Los Angeles);
  • The Minderoo Initiative on Technology and Society (New York University); and
  • The Minderoo-Oxford Challenge Fund on AI Governance (University of Oxford).

The network will incubate work on an accelerated timeline over the next five years on the themes of tackling lawlessness, empowering workers, and reimagining tech. The work will translate into rigorous reform agendas, robust public engagement, and corrections to the current asymmetry of corporate-funded narratives on technology futures.

Each network node will harness the unique strengths of their institution. In this spirit, the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy will initially draw upon key areas of experience and excellence at Cambridge. These will include:

  • Public Understanding: developing innovative ways of enhancing public understanding of digital technology; critically examining tech narratives about AI, machine-learning, and the deterministic thinking that accompanies them; and building journalistic capacity to critically interrogate tech platforms -- including their business models, data protection and handling, political lobbying and exploitation of capabilities of the technology.
  • Environmental consequences: examining the environmental impact of ICT to acquire and disseminate an informed, independent assessment of the planetary consequences of the industry's continued rate of expansion.
  • Work: refocusing the conversation on the future of work to consider the meaning work brings to people’s lives, and the significance for democracy when it is taken away. This will include the rise of the gig economy with its attendant insecurities, work patterns and 'management by algorithm'; and the democratic implications of technologies which eliminate rather than create jobs.
  • Trust: a study of how digital technologies and the organisations that deploy them can become more trustworthy than they are at present.

     

The Tech Impact Network

Tech Impact Network

The network will incubate work on an accelerated timeline over the next five years on the themes of tackling lawlessness, empowering workers, and reimagining tech. The work will translate into rigorous reform agendas, robust public engagement, and corrections to the current asymmetry of corporate-funded narratives on technology futures.

The Tech Impact Network is the engine room of a movement to challenge the current ordering of technology and power. A virtual, global, impact-oriented institution, the network is driven by its coordinating headquarters and regional hub at the Minderoo Tech & Policy Lab at the University of Western Australia. The inaugural pillars of this evolving and modular structure include the Minderoo Initiative on Technology and Power at the University of California Los Angeles, as well as the Minderoo Centre on Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge. They are supported by projects at New York University, the University of Oxford, the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, Tsinghua University, and the Australian Academy of Science.

The tech ecosystem owes much of its unmitigated power to concurrent phenomena of unparalleled market control, stymied public discourse, shrinking public institutions, and atomised dissent. To counter this, the network’s strategy is one of collective action and collaboration, designed to provide communities with tools and techniques for resisting corporate tech and imagining pro-public futures. It will incubate work on an accelerated timeline over the next five years on the themes of tackling lawlessness, empowering workers, and reimagining tech. The work will translate into rigorous reform agendas, robust public engagement, and corrections to the current asymmetry of corporate-funded narratives on technology futures.

The Tech Impact Network is powered by Minderoo Foundation, and includes the following inaugural nodes:
 

Minderoo Centre for Tech and Democracy (University of Cambridge)

The first international node of the Tech Impact Network is the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy, a brand-new endeavour domiciled at CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities), University of Cambridge. With a proud history of radical, boundary-crossing scholarship, CRASSH is a research-only entity that incubates novel projects that fall both outside and between conventional university departments. Under the leadership of CRASSH Director, Dr Steven Connor, and Advisory Board Chair, Dr John Naughton, the Centre brings decades of experience in leading cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and maximising public engagement.  

The Centre will begin its work-program by developing projects under four themes typically neglected in discussions of technology futures: public discourse, work, environment, and trust. The Centre will place a spotlight on tech narratives about AI, machine-learning, and the deterministic thinking that accompanies them. It will refocus the conversation on the future of work to consider the meaning work brings to people’s lives, and the significance for democracy when it is taken away. It will reveal the hidden environmental impacts of digital technology, from the minerals and metals extracted to make hardware, to the emissions generated from data centres. Finally, it will graft these questions onto the landscape of trust and trustworthiness: in public institutions, in companies, and in each other.

Minderoo Tech & Policy Lab (University of Western Australia)

The Minderoo Tech and Policy Lab serves as both the network’s coordinating headquarters, as well as a regional hub for incubating projects across the southern hemisphere. The location in Perth, Western Australia, places the Lab in the same time-zone as 60 per cent of the world’s population, embedded in a neighbourhood with many of the world’s net importers of technology. 

Under the direction of Dr Julia Powles, the Tech & Policy Lab will help lead the research and impact agenda for the Tech Impact Network, sequencing policy plays and targeted interventions on tech law and governance. Relative to other sectors, industries, and utilities, tech exists in a legal vacuum: with stark absences of any sense of obligation to respond to national frameworks of rules and regulation. The Lab aims to dramatically change this status quo, with a relentless focus on defending rights and protecting against harms to people and the environment.

The first projects of the Tech and Policy Lab are parallel law reform initiatives on updating private law remedies and public law protections. Both projects will deliver model legislative packages with the potential to make Australia a best-practice federal jurisdiction for technology regulation. These are complemented by projects that reimagine technology with a pro-public focus, under Tech Director Dr Jacqueline Alderson, an applied AI and machine learning specialist, with a particular focus on health and sport.

Minderoo Initiative on Technology and Power (University of California, Los Angeles)

The Minderoo Initiative on Technology and Power will critically investigate the social impact of digital technologies on communities and the broader public good. It will create new paradigms for the public to understand the harms of tech platforms, predictive technologies, advertising-driven algorithmic content, and the work of digital labourers. The Minderoo Initiative’s work program draws heavily from the intellectual contributions of its co-directors, Dr Safiya Noble and Dr Sarah Roberts. Both scholars are at the forefront of uncovering and exposing the darkest corners of tech’s power and politics. Dr Roberts’ work reveals the low-paid and precarious labour holding up much of the tech ecosystem, and Dr Noble’s work shows the structural racism baked into the infrastructure of commercial search and advertising-driven algorithmic content.  

The Initiative will lead the way on innovative knowledge transfer practices by translating its trailblazing research into graphic novels, art installations, public policy handbooks, and public events. With its home in the top public research university in the world, the Minderoo Initiative is serious about leveraging its paradigm- and culture-shifting work for widespread change-making globally.

Minderoo Initiative on Tech and Society (New York University)

Minderoo Professor Meredith Whittaker examines the social implications of artificial intelligence, considering its impacts on institutions, culture, and rights. From over a decade working at Google, Meredith witnessed first-hand the unprecedented incursions the company was making into markets, domains, and public institutions, building worker power to counter the unethical decisions of the company. Now a fulltime researcher and activist, Meredith dedicates her time to scaling convening and organising power across all the workers’ communities that tech touches. Meredith leads the AI Now Research Institute.

Minderoo Foundation is also providing foundational support to ENRICH (Equity in Indigenous Research and Innovation Coordinating Hub), which domiciles a constellation of Indigenous approaches to data ethics, collective privacy, data governance, digital infrastructure, and responsive policy. Minderoo Foundation’s support makes space and creates opportunities for Indigenous communities to innovate, create and share in the digital future we all should have a say in building. ENRICH harnesses a truly global network of indigenous voices, drawing on collaborations between NYU and universities including Waikato, Tasmania, Arizona, British Columbia, Washington State, Berkeley, and Chapingo. It uses a hub-and-spoke model across global Indigenous networks, supporting local grassroots initiatives, enhancing institutional practice, and engaging with national and international standard-setting exercises. The first Global ENRICH Chair will commence in Fall 2020 and is Maggie Walter from the University of Tasmania.

People

Director: Steven Connor

Head of Advisory Board: John Naughton

Research Fellows: Hugo Leal, Julia Rone

Research Assistant: Josh Simons

Research Assistant: André Rodarte

Project Administrator: Irene Galandra Cooper 

Advisory Board

 

Emily Bell is Founding Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, and a leading thinker, commentator and strategist on digital journalism. The majority of her career was spent at Guardian News and Media in London working as an award winning writer and editor both in print and online. As editor-in-chief across Guardian websites and director of digital content for Guardian News and Media, she led the web team in pioneering live blogging, multimedia formats, data and social media ahead, making the Guardian a recognised pioneer in the field. She is co-author (with C.W. Anderson and Clay Shirky) of Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present (2012), a trustee of the Scott Trust, the owners of The Guardian, a member of Columbia Journalism Review’s board of overseers, an adviser to Tamedia Group in Switzerland, chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on social media, and a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.

 

 

Diane Coyle is the inaugural Bennett Professor of Public Policy Cambridge. She co-directs the Bennett Institute where she heads research under the themes of progress and productivity, and has been a government adviser on economic policy, including throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Her latest book, Markets, State and People – Economics for Public Policy examines how societies reach decisions about the use and allocation of economic resources.

Diane is also a Director of the Productivity Institute, a Fellow of the Office for National Statistics, an expert adviser to the National Infrastructure Commission, and Senior Independent Member of the ESRC Council. She has served in public service roles including as Vice Chair of the BBC Trust and as a member of: the Competition Commission; the Migration Advisory Committee; and the Natural Capital Committee. Diane was Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester until March 2018 and was awarded a CBE for her contribution to the public understanding of economics in the 2018 New Year Honours.

 

 

David Runciman is Professor of Politics at Cambridge, a Contributing Editor of the London Review of Books and hosts the podcast Talking Politics. He was co-director of the Technology and Democracy project that ran at CRASSH some years ago and is the founding Director of the Centre for the Future of Democracy in the Bennett Institute. He has written extensively on democracy -- most recently in How Democracy Ends and is currently working on a book derived from his recent series of online talks, The History of Ideas.

 

 

Professor Jennifer Gabrys is a leading sociologist addressing some of the crucial interfaces that are reshaping both society and her discipline, including the relationships between digital technology, citizen data, and emergent forms of political engagement. Since 2013 she has been the Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project ‘Citizen Sense’ -- a pioneering investigation into the public engagement with environmental sensing technologies and citizen-data generation in both urban and rural locations in the US and the UK. The findings and outputs from this innovative work comprise one of the most detailed bodies of sociological research ever assembled analysing the relationship between citizen sensing, citizen data and environmental change, especially in relation to air pollution. As such, the study is a major contribution to our understanding not only of digital societies, but also to the core premise of the Anthropocene, namely that the very forces reshaping the planet must now be seen as sociological, political and technological.

 

 

Sheila Hayman is a BAFTA and BAFTA Fulbright winning documentary filmmaker, and Director's Fellow at the MIT Media Lab. She’s currently working on a film on Artificial Intelligence and its implications. In 2010 her film ‘Mendelssohn, The Nazis and Me’ was nominated for the Grierson Award as Best Arts Documentary, in 2012 she wrote, produced and directed a multilingual miniseries about the Enlightenment which was seen by 150m people, and in 2014 she wrote and produced a major drama-documentary about the Targa Florio road race in Sicily. Website

 

 

Professor Richard Danbury is an academic lawyer, a journalist and a former practicing barrister. He directs the MA in investigative journalism at City University, London. He practised -- briefly -- as a criminal barrister before joining the BBC, where he worked for about a decade, based in News and Current Affairs, and specialising in interviews and investigations. He spent extended periods on programmes such as Newsnight and Panorama and the investigative documentary series Rough Justice. His last staff job was Deputy Editor of the 2010 BBC Prime Ministerial Debate. While at the BBC, he was part of teams that won two Royal Television Society Awards and a New York Festivals medal. He then went freelance, and has worked for Channel 4, Sky and ITN, producing interviews with just about every leader of a main UK political party since 2000, and has worked on TV coverage of the past five general elections. He has also coordinated Channel 4’s investigative journalism training scheme for the past six years, and has been the BBC’s Advanced Legal Trainer for the past nine years. He is a member of the Scott Trust Review Panel, the organisation that deals with editorial complaints in relation to the Guardian's content.

 

 

Julia Powles is Associate Professor of Law and Technology at the University of Western Australia and Director of the Minderoo Tech & Policy Lab there. Scientifically trained and experienced in national and international policy-making, her research focuses on civic and rights-based responses to emerging technologies. She is an expert in privacy, intellectual property, internet governance, and the law and politics of data, automation, and artificial intelligence. Prior to joining UWA, Julia held academic appointments at New York University, Cornell Tech, and the University of Cambridge. She also worked in the Office of the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, in legal practice, as a contributing editor and policy fellow at the Guardian, as a bioscience researcher, and as a judicial associate in the Federal Court of Australia and Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

 

 

John Naughton is Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University, Director of the Wolfson Press Fellowship Programme, the Observer’s Technology columnist and an inveterate blogger. He was co-Director on two earlier CRASSH research projects — on ‘Conspiracy and Democracy’ and ‘Technology and Democracy’. His most recent book, From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know about the Internet is published by Quercus.

 

 

Steven Connor is the Director of CRASSH, Grace 2 Professor of English in the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He came to Cambridge in 2012, having been Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck College, London and, from 2003 to 2012, Director of the London Consortium Graduate Programme in Humanities and Cultural Studies, a collaboration between Birkbeck and cultural institutions in the capital, including Tate, the British Film Institute, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Architectural Association and the Science Museum. He is a writer, critic and broadcaster, who has published 25 books and edited collections, on a wide range of topics, including Dickens, Beckett, Joyce, value, ventriloquism, skin, flies and the imagination of air. Among his recent books are Dream Machines, an exploration of forms of machine fantasy or 'psychotechnography', and The Madness of Knowledge (2019).