Futures of Digital Governance

Artificial Intelligence, Innovation and Economic Growth, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Internet

Article Snapshot


Virgilio Almeida and Urs Gasser


Communications of the ACM, Vol. 65, No. 3, pp. 30-32, 2022


Digital technologies will cause far-reaching social change on a global scale. Novel methods of governance will be needed to contend with the scope of this transformation.

Policy Relevance

Universities should lead a global interdisciplinary effort to develop innovative governance methods.

Main Points

  • Digital technologies are transforming health, transportation, education, government, and media; these technologies can improve our lives and support sustainable development, but raise concerns about human rights and market power.
  • Traditional institutions, processes, and rights may be inadequate to address ethical, legal, and social issues raised by digital technologies; innovation is needed in the realm of governance.
  • "Governance" refers to all collective regulation of social matters, including self-regulation by civil society, collaboration of private and public actors, and the actions of states.
  • Two arguments will help us imagine new forms of governance.
    • Path dependency might hinder the development of new governance methods.
    • A global effort lead by universities could help overcome path dependency and foster innovation in governance.
  • The history of Internet governance shows that, usually, familiar governance mechanisms are applied to new problems, and novel governance mechanisms emerge more rarely.
    • Key data protection and anti-misinformation regimes follow a traditional top-down model of legislation.
    • ICANN, the non-profit organization that coordinates Internet domain names, represents innovation in digital governance.
  • Given the scale, scope, and nature of issues arising from advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, ideas for new institutions are needed to avoid path dependencies.
  • Philanthropists and the private sector should invest in globally interconnected spaces for interdisciplinary efforts to support innovation in governance.
    • Efforts to reduce risks associated with digital technologies should be global and polycentric.
    • Interdisciplinary efforts should include computer science, law, economics, political science, and environmental science.
  • The next generation of policymakers should be trained to understand different disciplines, and universities and other organizations should develop ways to offer them guidance.

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