The concept of Augmented Democracy (AD), developed by Hidalgo and his team (2018) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) proposes to explore how AI could foster democracy. It is based on the assumptions that (1) more information and more instances of participation are not necessarily the solution to the decline of citizen participation in liberal democratic states, and that (2) AI is progressively infiltrating all aspects of our lives, including politics. This is precisely what this interdisciplinary project aims to examine: how AI could foster democracy, citizen participation and support policy-makers.

Lay summary

After over 15 years of development, the Federal Council decided to temporarily put on hold the implementation of the electronic vote in Switzerland. This decision illustrates well the difficulty to define the role of digital technologies in liberal democracies. On one hand, the declining rates of political participation calls for new instruments to foster citizen engagement. On the other hand, rising cybersecurity concerns and disinformation campaigns force governments to scale down e-voting initiatives. When discussing the role of digital technologies in liberal democracies, artificial intelligence (AI) is probably the most controversial. This technology triggers the greatest hopes (e.g. AI can help tackle global issues such as climate change) and at the same time raises many concerns (e.g. will AI eventually take over political negotiations and make all decisions?). If it is not clear yet what the future of this technology will be, it is nevertheless crucial to propose some orientations that can benefit citizens and liberal democracies at large.  

Since the future of democracies is questioned by some scholars, political leaders and tech entrepreneurs, this project wishes to explore if an AI application can foster liberal democracy. This research project wishes to acquire, in one year, enough data to conclude if an AI application based on the Augmented Democracy concept is worth exploring further. Hence, this experiment should inform us if digital twins can become the basis for larger research projects (with more participants, and multi-level policy-making processes), which would also explore their resilience to disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks (the two main reasons why the Federal Council decided to scale down e-voting in Switzerland). The data collected and the report should also enable policy-makers and civil society to contribute to a public debate about the future of democracy and the role of AI and ICT at large.