The public debate from the series Society 4.0, this time on the topic “Information and Data in the 21st Century: A Good Servant but a Bad Master?“, organized in collaboration with ABRA Software and Neuron Fund, took place on March 5th in the old printing spaces, now known as Opero.
The evening was traditionally opened by Jiří Schneider, the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Central Europe. After warm welcoming of participants and guests in the full Opero hall, the moderation of the evening was taken over by Ján Simkanič, founder, and director of Deník N.
The first presentation was given by Libuše Šmuclerová, Chairwoman of the Board and CEO of one of the largest media companies in the Czech Republic, Czech News Center. She presented the main challenges of the ever-increasing uncontrollable flow of data, which she also referred to as a time bomb. Will we be able to handle the massive data streams in the future, or will artificial intelligence overshadow us and severely restrict our personal freedom? The problem of the massive growth of data and information mainly concerns the internet population, which willingly exposes itself to danger due to inadequate habits of “digital hygiene.” Examples of this are cookies, the 21st-century commodity, which most of the population voluntarily agrees to and thus allows the storage of information about their activities. These data open the doors to privacy breaches if they are leaked. Libuše Šmuclerová also focused on digital giants, who, thanks to their monopolistic position on the internet, can collect and analyze large amounts of private data primarily for behavioral targeting in advertising.
In the second presentation, František Vrábel, a data analyst, and CEO of Semantic Visions, addressed disinformation or what he calls “malicious information serving to manipulate opinions.” Semantic Visions works daily with over half a million sources, making up 90% of the global internet news content. Their goal is to detect threats for more than 3 million companies promptly. Currently, some of the main producers of disinformation are sources from Russia, China, and Islamist groups. Social media platforms that are not restricted by media laws but play a key role in information dissemination are also a significant problem. Regulation may be a solution to prevent the sale of people’s identities and the formation of social bubbles susceptible to adhering to one source. Mr. Vrábel also spoke about artificial intelligence (AI), which, according to current predictions, could become practically indistinguishable from humans in certain situations within two years, significantly changing people’s lives. The importance of AI is evident from the massive investments made by world powers in its further development and its perception as a new form of competition and warfare.
Subsequently, Aspen Young Leaders Alumna and founder of the project “Zvol si Info, Kateřina Křivánková, founder, and director of the project “Sinopsis,” Martin Hála, coordinator of the project “Náš stát, naše data” from the Open Society Fund, Lenka Kováčová, and the author of the project “Česko je Nano” and psychologist Jiří Kůs joined the debate.
In his introductory remarks, Martin Hála pointed out the problematic social credit system in China, which demonstrates the interests of Communist party members in technology companies for strict surveillance of citizens. To prevent internet totalitarianism as seen in China, which is slowly creeping into some parts of Europe, we must be aware of harmful actors and their intentions, added the expert on the People’s Republic of China.
Kateřina Křivánková’s project, “Zvol si Info,” which fights against fake news and disinformation in society, has recently reached the milestone of ten thousand students interested in uncovering harmful behavior on the internet. In her speech, she drew attention not only to increasingly sophisticated disinformation techniques, such as graphical face swapping during politicians’ speeches (deep fakes), which are indistinguishable from authentic footage, but also to the inadequate preparedness of the Czech government to address these problems. A missing unified concept of media literacy seems to be a solution.
Lenka Kováčová highlighted the benefits of open data, i.e., data freely available for further processing and use in various applications for the benefit of society. The idea of public and accessible access to data collected about us by the state is closely related to open data. However, the development of data transparency varies, and while some companies publish them without problems, the state, which holds a monopoly on certain types of information, is slower in this regard. In conclusion, she pointed out that the role of the state in the fight against disinformation is limited by the complexity of influencing information flows in the hands of large corporations.
Psychologist Jiří Kůs brought the role of the human factor and its weaknesses into the technological debate. He pointed out that the human personality and its underlying dispositions are under great strain and, when overwhelmed with information, are susceptible to believing disinformation. The reason for this may be the shortened time for processing information, which is continuously supplemented with additional stimuli. An overwhelmed human mind tends to resort to “shortcuts” due to a lack of trust in society and insufficient support for critical thinking. On the other hand, human creativity can be one of the ways to fight against disinformation.