In the run-up to the UK’s June 8 General Election,Technica UK and Wired UK are going to be discussing the big issues at the intersection of technology and politics with a weekly podcast—called UpVote—which launches today. This episode of the podcast is hosted by our news editor Kelly Fiveash and Wired UK’s Rowland Manthorpe. There are iTunes and direct download links available below.
Politics. You may have noticed there’s a lot of it about. We are living in a period of dramatic, destabilising change, and many of the old certainties—down to the idea that we live in a stable democracy allied in more or less predictable ways to other stable democracies—are under threat. We were promised disruption. Well, this is what it looks like.
Looking at this situation, it’s hard not to feel that digital technology is in some way to blame. It’s not just social media, although that’s the most obvious example. It’s also the rise of big online monopolies, recreating the exact functions of government in ways that challenge the basic social contract between state and citizens. Or cybersecurity, what Donald Trump calls “the cyber.” The fake news scandal is just a taster. More, undoubtedly, is to come.
At the same time, technology, which for long time has seen itself as a safe and above all clear refuge from matters of politics, has been dragged into the messy political realm, a move which has brought with it all sorts of difficult questions. Should Twitter ban Donald Trump? Should WhatsApp make its messages accessible to authorities? If good journalism is essential to a functioning democracy, should Google pay publications for linking to their articles?
Or is the Silicon Valley vision of politics—as an analogue inconvenience in a streamlined digital world—essentially correct? Could we replace the chaos of representative democracy with an unstoppable blockchain, a constant plebiscite conducted through smartphones, or, I don’t know, a computer-brain mind-meld? Startups love to advertise their plans for “democratisation.” Maybe, somewhere out there, is a way to democratise democracy.
Our first guest on the UpVote podcast is Baroness Martha Lane Fox, Twitter board member, founder of Last Minute and Dot Everyone, and, most recently, backer of More United, which is crowdsourcing money to support any candidate which agrees with its values of openness and toleration.
Lane Fox, who’s been a vocal critic of Brexit, worked on tech policy under Gordon Brown and David Cameron—but not, as yet, under Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May. So does she have any plans to?
“I don’t know Theresa May personally,” Lane Fox says. “I still care deeply about the role the UK plays in the world, I care about digital as part of that, but I don’t come at this from what the tech sector needs and shouting about the tech sector. I’m actually more interested in what the tech sector needs and what digital can do in the country.”
Listen to the rest of the interview—and tell us what you think.