Digital Civil Society Lab

AI, Assembly and Democracy

The Digital Civil Society Lab (DCSL) is developing a path-breaking, multi-disciplinary and collaborative edited book exploring how artificial intelligence impacts a cornerstone of democratic life: the people’s ability to assemble. 

What do political micro-targeting, platform content moderation, and the use of stingray and facial recognition technologies by local police forces have in common? Each of these AI-enabled practices reveals the role of third-parties in people’s ability to come together to take action. The paths we take to find peers or participate in public fora are paved by digital intermediaries. Data is now captured on everything from our activities at work, school, and worship, to protests, civic and charitable events. Natural language processing, machine learning, and biometric recognition technologies not only transform our digital spaces but also our physical ones.  How does this reality change what we do, where we do it, with whom, and how do we make sure the AI revolution respects a democratic commitment to the people’s ability to assemble?

The growing, multi-disciplinary research into the Internet and democracy has largely focused on the implications of digital technology for freedom of speech, as visible in the emphasis on mis- and dis-information, content moderation, and political polarization, echo chambers, filter bubbles, etc. Considerably less attention has been directed to how this same digital ecosystem is reshaping another cornerstone of democratic societies: our ability to identify, gain access to, and mobilize others. Our aspiration for this volume is to advance – with urgency – attention to the implications of purely digital spaces and digitized physical spaces on people’s ability to assemble. We hope to create more common vocabulary across disciplines, to surface research that can inform policy conversations, and to tackle a wide range of theoretical and empirical questions related to AI and freedom of assembly, 

The manuscript is written through a workshop and iterative feedback process designed to produce a volume organized around a few central questions and that stands as an example of collaborative research production. The research team will also draw on our Digital Assembly Research Network (DARN) – a global community of 350+ scholars, technologists, policy makers and civil society actors dedicated to addressing the ways digital systems influence our ability and right to assemble. The volume and the DARN together serve to integrate policy, practice, and scholarship.

This project is supported by a seed grant from the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI).