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Yaroslav Kuzminov: As Digital Reality Develops, We Face More and More Infringements upon Freedom

Yaroslav Kuzminov: As Digital Reality Develops, We Face More and More Infringements upon Freedom

© iStock

Today, we need a coordinated agenda in order to understand how to develop a comfortable and safe technological environment and make the consequences of rapid technological development forecastable and manageable. This is what HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov said at the National Academic Online Conference ‘Ethical and Legal Issues of Digital Transformation: From Conflict to Harmony?’

The conference on ethical and legal issues of digital transformation was held online on November 27, 2020. It was organized by the HSE Institute for Law in the Digital Environment. The world’s digital transformation touches almost all aspects of human life and presents several challenges for humanity—not only economic in nature, but ethical and legal as well. The conference organizers hope to initiate a wide discussion about whether we are able to create the kind of future world that would meet our ideas of justice and morality, where people collectively endeavour to avoid deep social conflicts.

Ruslan Ibragimov, Director of the HSE Institute for Law in the Digital Environment, opened the conference and said that today, in the era of digital transformation, unlike in previous periods of human history, there is almost no time to elaborate a theory and ethical principles that would further be reflected in law. ‘In fact, when we discuss legislative reforms, we have to resolve the philosophical and ethical aspects at the same time,’ he said.


Ruslan Ibragimov

In his welcoming address, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov noted that the issues that arise when transitioning to new technology and a new way of life always bring multiple problems in behavioural culture—it is not a coincidence that the name of the conference contains the word ‘harmony’, he said. Obviously, we are facing some new conflict areas today, when the coming new orders challenge ideas of freedom and rights. We have to focus on the problems raised by the new digital phenomena that regulators of human behaviour face, that each of us faces. He gave an example of protests that raged across the U.S. this year: ‘If we take a deeper look at these events, we see that some of the protesters’ demands are based on a protest against technology, on their fear for their security, personal data confidentiality, and personal privacy, which they believe is suddenly under threat.’

People who do not deal with technology professionally often see it as a black box, or technology becomes a kind of a cargo cult for them. And when we do not understand something, ‘we do not trust it; we do not see what is inside.’ The uncomfortable feeling increases the demand for security and protection, as well as raises the question of ethical requirements to technology development.

Yaroslav Kuzminov said that ‘our European colleagues have been discussing the domination of the social aspect over purely technical tasks for several years.’ A coordinated agenda is needed for these social studies. The agenda may include the following questions: How can we create a comfortable, safe, and fair technological environment? How can we make the consequences of rapid digital technological development understandable, forecastable, and manageable? Meanwhile, we should keep in mind that the ideas of manageability and regulation are also changing, and many may say that a new social consensus is needed here.

The whole situation tests our perception of state and law. Traditionally, we have seen them as something monolithic and stable, something imposed rather than something we create. Today, this idea is being seriously challenged

Today, technological innovations and new legal regulations are being developed almost simultaneously, without any accumulation of legal relations experience. The public opposition is sometimes so consolidated that it’s impossible to provide legal regulation based on practices that date 10 or 15 years back. ‘Flexible law is a global need today,’ the HSE Rector believes. In this regard, Russia is very experienced in living under constantly changing institutions—since about 1985.

Yaroslav Kuzminov responded to a question from the chat about the values on which we should base our decisions, the perspectives of soft law in Russia, and the extent to which the unobliging law paradigm may solve problems of contemporary society. He said that in the context of swift change, the role of soft law is much more important than half a century ago.

‘We can see the way it works in social relations. While the gears of justice slowly turn, the media issue their own sentence. Look how it is done in the US: how the mechanisms of being ostracized by the media have worked. Look at how ostracization on social media works in Russia, how a kind of general attitude to certain questions is formed,’ he said.

Yaroslav Kuzminov
© HSE University

Rector Kuzminov suggests that the zone of trusting behaviour is rapidly expanding. Generation Z is, on the one hand, very talented and smart, and on the other hand they often trust information from Google without even checking it. At the same time, the zone of rational choice is rapidly shrinking.

The rector also addressed the issue of freedom. ‘As digital reality develops, we face more and more infringements upon freedom,’ he said. In the digital sphere, a person may become inundated with certain kinds of information. ‘When our capabilities to calculate and process information are limited, what can we rely on to make our choices?’ In this regard, the role of values and ethics as the main internal regulator of behaviour is rapidly growing. Morals ‘based on internal imperatives: not on external state authority, but on one’s own culture and the expectations that your behaviour will return certain reactions from the people who you want to communicate with’ will become the main choice drivers.

The mechanisms of social ostracization, support or disapproval, fear of ‘Facebook reaction’ are the new examples of regulation. According to Yaroslav Kuzminov, they largely fill in for the function of law. That’s why, the rector believes, the conference brought together the respected experts in philosophy, ethics and law, in order to discuss the new reality together.

Speakers at the conference included Arseny Mayorov, researcher at the HSE Institute for Law in the Digital Environment; Anastasia Ugleva, Head of the HSE School of Philosophy and Cultural Studies; Anton Ivanov, Academic Supervisor of the HSE Faculty of Law, and many other HSE faculty members. Vadim Vinogradov, Dean of the Faculty of Law, spoke about the challenges lawyers face. Among these, he mentioned the large-scale digitalization of the legal profession, which endangers the traditional perspective of the lawyer’s profession. He believes that the contents of educational programmes and methods should be revised. Vadim Vinogradov also spoke about projects being implemented at the Faculty of Law: a laboratory of technology in law, a new legal clinic, a Master’s programme in digital law, future digital Bachelor’s tracks, and digital aspects of research projects.

The conference broadcast recording is available here.

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