Ars Electronica 2023 is asking: Who Owns the Truth?

header_blog_sujet, Festival Sujet 2023 by DALL.E, edited with Adobe Photoshop AI

From September 6 to 10, 2023, Ars Electronica will once again be inviting artists, scientists, developers, designers, entrepreneurs and activists from all over the world to Linz, Austria. We talked to Ars Electronica’s Artistic Director Gerfried Stocker about what Europe’s largest festival for art, technology and society will be focusing on this year and about the ideas behind this year’s theme. At the beginning, of course, is the theme, which this year is formulated as a question: Who owns the truth?

Truth and Ownership, Interpretation and Sovereignty. The theme of this year’s Ars Electronica Festival is very close to the focal points of our time. Can truth be owned? Is there a right to truth, and if someone does own it, what power and responsibility does that entail? What do these questions have to do with digitalization, and how does this relate to the breathtakingly developing power of so-called artificial intelligence?

Gerfried Stocker, Credit:

From Digital Humanism to Digital Socialism

In recent years, we have been thinking a lot about “digital humanism,” a digital humanism that builds a just and democratic society where people are at the center of technological progress. Digital humanism ensures that our needs and universal human rights are met and advocates for the preservation of our human dignity. It designs technology in accordance with human values and envisions alternative ways for humans and machines to interact, focusing on diversity and inclusion in the design, implementation, and adaptation of digital tools.

But now is the time to think about a “digital socialism”, a “commonwealth” and a “social contract” with which we can manage the profound and far-reaching changes of the digital age and, even more, the global collective consequences of climate change. How can we, as a society, move one step further from Digital Humanism to answer the pressing questions of this time? This step further leads us to a Digital Socialism, to a renegotiation of the social contract.

We need a new Social Contract

The social contract is a hypothetical contract between members of a society or community that defines their rights and obligations and protects their individual interests and welfare. It includes elements such as form of government, laws, civil rights and duties, and relationships between citizens and government. Theories of the social contract are controversial and contested, as some view it as necessary for a just society, while others view it as a limitation on freedom and individual rights. Overall, the social contract is an important concept for understanding the relationship between citizens and government.

In a world where AI systems are being used to generate images and change the foundations of our society, we are forced to rewrite the social contract. The fear of change and upheaval for our value systems are not new; they come up again and again as we look back on the past. But now we must face the challenge of how to negotiate a new world order. This involves issues of responsibility, rights to property and intellectual property, access to data, and control over AI systems.

We need to ensure that media mandates and public service mandates are guaranteed even when AI systems are used, to avoid bias and insufficient data bases in media representation. We also need to think about whether it is justifiable for society to fund the development of AI systems, the training required for them, while privatizing the outcome of the technologies. All of these considerations require a new form of cooperation and a consensus on how we want to shape our society in order to create a digital future for all.

As Ars Electroncica, we argue that in all of this, it is essential not to be negative about technologies from the outset, but to ask ourselves the question: How can we make use of technology, and above all, how can we make it accessible to everyone? In doing so, we don’t just want to ask the question: How can technology do no harm? Rather, we want to ask: How can society be positioned to share in the profits and benefits of new technologies? A massive change in the economic system, a redistribution, is indispensable.

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What, in other words, is the Ars Electronica Festival 2023 about?

It’s about truth as a manifesto of interpretive sovereignty and sovereignty, about dealing with the loss of the claim to “the” truth and with the fact that we have to get used to thinking of truth as plural. It is about truthfulness as the basis of our value conception of “real” and “original” and how these terms have already been transformed in the digital. It’s about the collective synchronization of perception as a strategy for fake and conspiracy in social media, and about the machinations of lobbies and big business, from influencing the scientific basis of man-made climate change to the fraud of the diesel scandal. It’s about freedom of speech and expression, about how we deal with obvious liars all the way up to the highest political offices, and how we deal with people who publish inconvenient truths, such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. It’s about whether the truth is reasonable for people to know and about the importance of scientific knowledge and evidence. But it is also about the concept of ownership of nature, beyond the centuries-old philosophical and jurisprudential debate, about the factual reality of the exploitation and destruction of nature as a merciless mortgage to future generations. And, of course, it is about all that we believe, fear or hope will change as a result of so-called Artificial Intelligence.

In the following parts of this blog series, we will go into more detail about the individual aspects of the festival theme, we will show you examples of how these can be implemented artistically and what new questions arise as a result. We also have some further links and sources for you if you want to find out more about these topics. In the meantime, you can read more about “Who owns the truth?” on our Mastodon account..

The highlights of the Ars Electronica Festival 2023 can be found here.

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