THE GRID at SXSW 2021 A New Digital Humanism: Art + Tech + Policy

Artists, technologists, and policymakers are often confined to working within their individual silos. Within the framework of Digital Humanism, initiatives like The Grid however aim at unifying the foci of these seemingly interrelated areas towards putting humanism back at the heart of technology. On March 16th, 2021, The Grid hosted a virtual panel on the main channel of SXSW, discussing Digital Humanism - a novel concept that aims at placing humans and citizens back at the heart of technology and thus to the related policy. With art as a soft power tool, interdisciplinary collaboration between the areas of technology and policy was critical according to all representatives on the panel.

Merging the areas of art, technology, and policy, The Grid’s co-founder and president Clara Blume moderated a lively discussion with representatives of the respective fields:

  • EU Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union to the United States

  • Gerfried Stocker, Artistic Director of Ars Electronica

  • Eric Loeb, Executive Vice President, Government Affairs at Salesforce

Because technology lies at the heart of some of the problems and solutions of humanity’s most pressing challenges, Eric Loeb highlighted the "fact that technology is central to society now, and if anything, this past year [...] has accelerated the digital transformation and accelerated the scale and centrality" of it. Technology can thus play a key role in creating a more equal, inclusive, and just society, and we must therefore consciously shape it to benefit all of humankind. Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis hereby underlined the importance of "technology for the people," where basic human rights must be ensured offline and online and that any frontier technology must be measured against its positive impact on society as a whole. In his words, "any new technology has to make a positive difference to our lives."

As was pointed out by Clara Blume, "although technology is always inherently human, it’s not always necessarily humane [...] people all over the world voice the need to put the human back at the center of tech development," an unmistakable call for Digital Humanism. All parties on the panel agreed that interdisciplinary collaboration between artists, technologists, and policymakers will be indispensable in order to ascertain what it means to 'be human' in the face of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Gerfried Stocker hereby underlines the critical assumption behind centering humanity at the heart of technology, namely that "humanism, humanity, and technology should be [...] the same thing." Breaking up the respective silos of art, technology, and policy-making and viewing them as interrelated is hence a representation of "why we humans invent technology - because we want to enrich our possibilities, and not just enrich a few people," in Stocker’s words.

Concepts like The Grid’s, "introducing art-thinking into the area of technology," hence carry tremendous potential for policymaking. As Eric Loeb highlighted, this applies to the private sector as well, where interdisciplinary openness to both dialogue and critique can elevate a company to a whole new level.

With Digital Humanism as our ‘north star’ guiding us through the challenges ahead, each silo needs to act as an agent of change by actively breaching the barriers of their respective fields in order to forge alliances that can assure mutual trust and pave the way for interdisciplinary collaboration between art + tech + policy. GET ON THE GRID!

By Lena Kopetzky

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