Digital Humanism - a new initiative for Vienna


As a fundamental process of change, digitalization opens up many new opportunities and possibilities. It spawned considerable benefits and also promoted individual freedoms. At the same time, our society is increasingly confronted with problematic developments that often accelerate and develop a negative pull.

“The system is failing!”  (Tim Berners-Lee)

Renowned computer scientists such as Tim Berners-Lee, one of the founders of the world wide web, diagnose that the system is on the brink. The reasons are:

  • Accelerated monopolization of data and services.
  • Complete transparency of people (not only direct users) while at the same time the procedures of the companies remain secret.
  • Fueling of social polarization in social networks via filter bubbles,
  • Increased surveillance by governments
  • Pseudo-neutrality by delegation of decision-making processes to algorithms, etc.

However, these negative aspects and developments should not prevent us from using digital technologies in a positive way. The world would not be a better one without digitization, on the contrary.

“Technology is society made durable” (Bruno Latour, French sociologist and philosopher)

To counter this, we are called to action to find new answers and alternative solutions. The motto for this is Digital Humanism. It means putting people back at the center of technological developments and making them the benchmark and rule for digitalization processes. Digital humanism is about shifting from computer-literate people to people-literate technology. 

To do this, we need new approaches in and through science and research, above all collaboration across scientific disciplines, so that humanistic and social values ​​can find their way into the development of technologies, information systems and business models. Thus, the question is not how human values ​​can be defended against technological developments, but how digital technologies can serve as a means of strengthening and disseminating positive social values ​​and visions.

A central building stone to achieve this is the cooperation between the social sciences and humanities (SSH) and computer science - in the sense that insights from SSH findings can be foundations for developments in computer science. Some keywords are: ethical issues, regulation, new business models, empowerment strategies for socially disadvantaged people, participation.

It takes the effort and involvement of many to initiate a wider change process. This includes the sciences, politics, society and, last but not least, the digital industry, from which critical voices are also emerging lately.

“We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties.” (Google employees in an open letter to CEO Sundar Pichai)

The focus of the WWTF's activities in this phase is to build up sound and internationally recognizable research capacities in Vienna and to bring the SSH together with computer science to enable interdisciplinary projects. This cooperation should open up new approaches to drive alternative developments of digitization in the sense of the Enlightenment, Humanism and business models more akin to European understandings. Thereby, application-oriented basic knowledge for Digital Humanism in Vienna should be created. Vienna - together with other initiatives and partners in Europe that have similar goals - will contribute to follow a European path in digitization. Science can and should play a central role in this.

“Our task is not only to rein in the downsides of information and communication technologies, but to encourage human-centered innovation.” (Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism)

Vienna is at the forefront in establishing itself as a center of Digital Humanism. Many actors and institutions are currently taking initiatives. The following are particularly worth mentioning:

“Its specific areas of strength enable Vienna to go for the development and implementation of digital solutions that work with people in a sustainable and inclusive manner, thereby reflecting a new, digital humanism”  (City of Vienna, VIENNA 2030 - Economy & Innovation)

  • WWTF carried out a pilot study [Link in German] on behalf of the City of Vienna in order to detect the potential for Digital Humanism in Vienna and to identify the actors that might be relevant to Digital Humanism in a first run (no claim to completeness).



Contact: Michael Strassnig


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