Interview: “Europe can succeed in giving the internet and innovation a new public-interest orientation.”

Paul Nemitz, Chief Advisor to the European Commission

Paul Nemitz

In recent years, we have been able to do little in response to the tech platforms. Do you see any hope that in the future, we at the EU level will again be able to have a greater say in the rules governing the circulation of money and information online?

The European Commission’s work program foresees legislative proposals for a digital-services act and the regulation of artificial intelligence. These legal acts could shape the internet and the new digital technologies, as well as their underlying business models, in a way that is conducive to democracy, fundamental individual rights and the rule of law. However, this will require wide-ranging engagement from civil society, the research community, policymakers and other interested parties in the legislative process, which formally takes place between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the individual governments of the member states of the Council of Ministers. With broad democratic engagement and the use of the instruments of democracy, which include the promotion of innovation as well as the law, Europe can succeed in giving the internet and innovation a new public-interest orientation. 

You recently wrote a book about artificial intelligence entitled “The Human Imperative”. What does the “human imperative” mean to you in an increasingly automated world?

The “Human Imperative” (the title borrows from Hans Jonas’ “The Imperative of Responsibility”) is about power, freedom and democracy in the age of artificial intelligence. Given the enormous power of the tech giants, which only continues to grow, we need to take a clear stand: Individuals must be freely able to make fundamental decisions about the way they lead their daily lives. And similarly, we must preserve our society’s ability to use democratic processes to make the key decisions that shape our communities. We must not allow the technology, the collectors of personal data and the manipulation industry to take these freedoms from us. Technology and business serve people within frameworks of rules that we humans together create through our institutions of representative democracy. I don’t want to live in a world in which it is only Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft from the United States, and Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu from China that set the rules, and where we humans are manipulated and controlled by artificial intelligence. 

At this year’s M100, we want to set the course for a modern media policy. Currently, where do you see the greatest need for action that will ensure we still have a pluralistic, independent and resilient fourth estate in 10 years’ time?

For the first time, the new State Media Treaty imposes obligations upon the networks that constitute the electronic public sphere. This is the right thing to do. But more is needed: What has been achieved in the State Media Treaty must now be incorporated into the future rules of the EU. And we must subject the networks of the electronic public sphere to legal provisions governing media concentration. At the same time, we need new mechanisms to secure the private financing of pluralism within the media. This can be done only by regulating platforms such as Facebook and Google and their business models. Not only are they today collecting 80% of the new advertising revenue on the internet – thus, the money that should in fact be available to support media pluralism. They also have a major influence over the formation of political opinion through their networks of the electronic public sphere and their editorial systems. Finally, the precariat of freelance workers for the public broadcasting services (14,000 working for ARD alone) must be dismantled. The dismantling of specialized editorial staffs in favor of a shallow overall generalism must be stopped. Democracy needs securely employed editorial staffers who can research and report critically without fear, and who are allowed to specialize so that they can genuinely understand their subjects. Finally, the public broadcasting services must also be given the right and the duty to promote an ecosystem of new independent journalistic content producers (as they also do in the area of film). The electronic networks should also be made legally responsible for this task. 

The interview has been conducted by Frederik Fischer for M100

Recently released by Paul Nemitz (currently only in German) „Prinzip Mensch – Macht, Freiheit und Demokratie im Zeitalter der Künstlichen Intelligenz“, 430 Seiten, 26 Euro, Dietz Verlag.