The Digital Revolution — a phenomenon driven by the conjunction of the personal computer, the Internet and the mobile phone — has now been under way for half a century. In the process it has triggered the most comprehensive transformation of our information environment since Gutenberg’s invention of printing by moveable type. It has unleashed a wave of ‘creative destruction’ through our economies, triggered the emergence and rapid growth of powerful new global corporations, enabled governments and companies to engage in the most intrusive kinds of surveillance and enriched the lives of billions by giving them access to knowledge, communications and networking facilities that were once the exclusive preserve of elites.
Despite all that, it’s still early days. The Internet is just over 40 years old, and it didn’t become a mainstream communications medium until 1993. So we’re about the same distance into the Internet revolution as the citizens of Mainz were in 1477, two decades after Gutenberg launched his revolution. And just as they had no idea of the ways in which that technology would shape the world for the next 400 years, we are likewise largely in the dark about what the digital future holds.
The goal of this philanthropically-supported project — which is led by John Naughton and David Runciman — is to explore the implications of digital technology for society. Questions in which we are interested include:
- Are we living through a ‘third industrial revolution’, akin to the other technology-driven upheavals which have shaped the world in which we live?
- In what ways are digital technologies different from earlier disruptive forces? Are they increasing rather than diminishing inequality?
- Will computing and advanced robotics displace many categories of middle-class employment, as some scholars now predict? If so, how will democracies cope with the ensuing disruption?
- What are the implications for democracy of the pervasive surveillance now practised by governments and corporations? Can privacy — and personal data — be protected in such a world?
- Is the pace of technological development now too rapid for society to absorb the disruption that it brings? If so, how could we enhance social adaptability?
- How can the gap between the pace of technical change and that of legislative and regulatory adaptation be closed?
The Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge (CCDK) constitutes an ambitious response to the current state of digital knowledge, in a form that enables swift, scalable and dynamic response to rapidly changing intellectual, cultural and technological conditions.
The premise of CCDK is that we are now entering the third phase of Digital Humanities. The first phase prioritized the digitization of analogue materials. The second phase involved the growth of a digital humanities discipline, which has promoted new working practices in the humanities and social sciences. One result of these two phases has been the facilitation and increased speed of access to data. The third phase now urgently requires new forms of understanding that will use new technologies to transcend rather than perpetuate well-worn approaches in the humanities and social sciences. The CCDK is structured around two strands of research which represent the two most pressing concerns of digital humanities: Digital Epistemology and Digital Society.
The Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge comprises of the Technology and Democracy project, the Concept Lab and the Digital Society project.
David Vincent is Emeritus Professor of Social History at The Open University, and Visiting Professor at Keele University. He is the author or editor of sixteen books on British and European social history. His publications include Bread, Knowledge and Freedom. A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working Class Autobiography (Methuen, 1982); Literacy and Popular Culture. England 1750‑1914 (Cambridge University Press, 1989); The Culture of Secrecy: Britain 1832‑1998 (Oxford University Press, 1998), The Rise of Mass Literacy. Reading and Writing in Modern Europe (Polity Press, 2000); I Hope I Don’t Intrude. Privacy and its Dilemmas in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2015). His next book is Privacy. A Short History (Polity, January 2016).
Charles Arthur is a freelance Tech Journalist and previously was technology editor at The Guardian. He has also written for The Independent and the New Scientist about technology, science and the environment.
Christena Nippert-Eng ( visiting March to April 2017) is a sociologist and Professor of Informatics at Indiana University Bloomington. Her scholarly interests include cognitive and formal sociology, everyday life, privacy, culture, technology, user-centered design, and multi-species research.
Lawrence Quill (visiting March to April 2017) is Professor of Political Science at San Jose State University. His books include Secrets and Democracy: From Arcana Imperii to WikiLeaks.
Frank Pasquale (visiting May to June 2017) is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. His research agenda focuses on challenges posed to information law by rapidly changing technology, particularly in the health care, Internet, and finance industries. His book The Black Box Society: Technologies of Search, Reputation, and Finance develops a social theory of reputation, search, and finance.
Publications & Presentations
- Deliverology: Blair Hawks his Wares. Review of Tom Bower, Tony Blair: the Tragedy of Power, London Review of Books, 31 March 2016.
- Fear in Those Blue Eyes: Thatcher in Her Bubble. Review of Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: the Authorised Biography Vol II, London Review of Books, 3 December 2015.
- A Tide of Horseshit, A review of Nicholas Stern, Why Are We Waiting? The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change; Dieter Helm, Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet; and Gernot Wagner & Martin Weizman, Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, London Review of Books, 24 September 2015.
- The Challenge of Political Leadership Today, 13 November 2015, Conference panel & Interview.
- How Democracy Ends: Thinking the Unthinkable, Lecture 27 November 2017, CSAR, University of Cambridge.
- The Long History of ‘Cyber’. A review of Thomas Rid’s The Rise of the Machines: the Lost History of Cybernetics, Observer, 11 September 2016.
- Forget ideology, liberal democracy’s newest threats come from technology and bioscience. An essay on Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Observer, 28 August 2016.
- Russian hacking of the US election is the most extreme case of how the internet is changing our politics. An essay on how the Internet is shaping US politics, Observer, 18 September 2016.
- Has the Internet become a failed state? Observer, 27 November 2016.
- The Evolution of the Internet: From Military Experiment to General Purpose Technology, Journal of Cyber Policy, 1(1), 2016, pp. 5-28.
- Interview at Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House), 9 May 2016.
- What does election hacking mean for democracy?, Prospect Magazine, 30 December 2016.
- Peter Thiel’s latest bet pays off, Medium, 12 December 2016.
- How Trump’s savvy army won the internet war, Observer, 1 January 2016.
- In conversation with Judy Wajcman about her new book, Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism.
- Written evidence to the House of Lords select committee on AI, 6 September 2017.
- ’95 Theses’ project, Introduction & Website.
- John Naughton and David Runciman in conversation with Dan Schiller, 27 September 2015.
- Interview for Cardiff University Department of Journalism project on "Digital Citizenship and Surveillance Society", 13 November 2015.
David Vincent & John Naughton
- Open Democracy article: The Investigatory Powers Bill is our chance to publicly set the rules around surveillance, Open Democracy.
Nóra Ní Loideain
- The End of Safe Harbour: Implications for EU Digital Privacy and Data Protection Law, Journal of Internet Law, (2016) 19(8).
- EU Law and Mass Internet Metadata Surveillance in the Post-Snowden Era, Media and Communications – Special Issue on Surveillance: Critical Analysis and Current Challenges. 3(2), 2015.
- The UK Investigatory Powers Bill – one step forward, two steps back (Online article) Open Democracy, 17 November 2015.
- Written evidence to Public Committee on revised Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB64) (published 14 April 2016).
- Report of Ad Hoc Working Group on Investigatory Powers Bill, Findings Published in Joint Committee Report on Draft Investigatory Powers Bill (HL Paper 93) (published 11 February 2016).
- Written Evidence to UK Houses of Parliament, Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill (published 10 December 2015).
- Written Evidence to Joint Committee on Human Rights on IP Bill.
- The Investigatory Powers Bill: A Proportionate Framework?, Overseeing the Secret State: A Symposium on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, Technology and Democracy Project, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 5 February 2016.
- The End of Safe Harbour: Implications of the Schrems Judgment, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, 16 October 2015.
- Investigatory Powers, Human Rights and Oversight, Third Winchester Conference on Trust, Risk, Information and the Law: Information is Power, University of Winchester, 27 April 2016.
- J. A. Hobson and the Machinery Question, Journal of British Studies, 54.2 (2015): 377-405.
- Review of Dan Bouk, How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual, The British Journal for the History of Science, 49(3), 2016, pp. 520–521. doi: 10.1017/S0007087416001011.
Audio Visual Collections
- Recordings of Technology and Democracy project events and conferences
- Technology and Democracy YouTube playlist
Events (including recordings where available)
- Pax Technica: The Implications of the Internet of Things. 24 November 2017
- Outnumbered! Statistics, Data and the Public Interest. 1 June 2017
- Humane Automation; The Political Economy of Working with - Rather than Against - Machines. 25 May 2017
- Tim O’Reilly - The WTF Economy. 23 May 2017
- The Power Switch; How Power is Changing in a Networked World. 31 March 2017
- Social Camouflage: From Face-to-Face to Digital Deception. 23 March 2017
- Characterization of Internet Censorship from Multiple Perspectives. 16 March 2017
- Has the Public Been Well Served by Technology Journalism? 9 March 2017
- Investigatory Powers Act 2016: A Snooper’s Charter? 1 December 2016
- 2084: Cryptography, Magic, and Politics. 24 November 2016
- Sacrificing Liberty, Privacy & Data Security for Cruise? Smart Cars, Data Protection & Encryption. 24 May 2016
- Internet Jurisdiction, Extraterritoriality and Law Enforcement. 3 May 2016
- Social Media and Political Turbulence. 26 April 2016
- Why Privacy? 18 April 2016
- Oversight or Theatre? Surveillance and Democratic Accountability. 5 February 2016
- Technological Displacement of White-Collar Employment: Political and Social Implications. 19 January 2016
- Digital Technologies and Democracy: A Minimalist, Practice-oriented Institutional Approach. 9 November 2015
- Paul Mason - Postcapitalism. 28 October 2015
- The End of Safe Harbour: Implications of the Schrems Judgement. 16 October 2015
- Digital Capitalism: Stagnation and Contention? 29 September 2015
- Future of the Left Symposium: Demography, Technology, Identity. 23 September 2015
- Corporate Power in a Digital World. 22 June 2015
- Perilous Times: The View from Inside the NSA. 15 May 2015
- Technology at Work: The Future of Innovation and Employment. 12 May 2015