Event Highlight

2019 Niejelow Rodin Global Digital Futures Policy Forum: Navigating Digital Transformations: Survive or Thrive?

Posted May 13 2019

The Niejelow Rodin Global Digital Futures Policy Forum, undertaken as part of the Tech & Policy Initiative at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, represents a long-term intellectual initiative to reimagine our digital future, focusing on the potential benefits and costs arising from global digital technology changes and looking ahead to emerging challenges and possible policy responses.

Now in its fifth year, the newly-renamed Niejelow Rodin Global Digital Futures Policy Forum brings together leading scholars from the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Columbia University, business leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, academics, journalists, and others to discuss the broad challenges and opportunities created by wide-ranging digital transformations occurring in the world today.

A leading forum on digital technology and public policy, this year’s conference convened hundreds of practitioners, industry experts, researchers as well as scholars from across Columbia University for a full day of discussions under the broad theme, “Global Digital Transformations: Survive or Thrive?” With three keynote addresses and six panel discussions throughout the day, the Forum addressed significant digital technology challenges in areas such as speech and social media, digital technology and the future of elections, AI and governance, regulation, cyber conflict, and financial sector cyber risk.

Among the key questions discussed:

  • How can open and pluralistic societies thrive in the digital future—be it with respect to elections and speech, regulating/governing the digital economy; and the AI/data/algorithmic world?
  • How can we establish a roadmap towards “cyber peace” and cyber governance in the global context and financial stability in a world of increased cyber risk?

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    Highlights of the conversations and links to watch the panels are available below. The conference featured welcome remarks by SIPA Dean Merit E. Janow, opening comments by Kara Swisher of Vox Media, a lunch keynote conversation with David Sanger of the New York Times, a fireside chat with Lt. General John D. Bansemer, and closing remarks by Laura DeNardis and Gordon M. Goldstein.

    Session 1. Can We De-Weaponize Social Media for Speech?

    Social media has been an empowering leap in human communications. But with it came the rapid spread of hate speech, propaganda, misinformation, and harassment. The problem of weaponized speech invites an urgent response. A panel of policy, legal, technical, and practical experts will explore necessary reforms to social media and assess whether these changes can come about organically from the platforms themselves or if there will need to be a legal and political remedy.

    Session 2. Digital Technology and the Future of Elections

    Democratic institutions are threatened by cyber attacks and external actors seeking to interfere with electoral processes. Advances in communication technology have made it easier than ever to spread misinformation and manipulate voter behavior. A panel of technical, political, and academic experts will explore how digital technologies are changing democratic systems and how to respond to the challenges identified.

    Session 3. Can We Navigate Major Regulatory Transformations?

    Governments are passing legislation seeking to protect election and Internet security. The implications of these regulations are unknown and in flux, as evidenced by the consequences of recent reforms such as the General Data Protection Regulation. A panel of academics, venture capitalists, and policymakers will assess how companies both large and small will fare in the new regulatory landscape.

    Session 4. Artificial Intelligence and Governance

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used in decision-making with wide-ranging personal and societal consequences. While the success of AI is exciting, its applications and ubiquity raise governance questions. This panel will discuss AI’s current applications and its long-term impact, the need (if any) for regulation and what it should look like. It will also assess the differing approach to AI technology taken by the US and China, and conclude with a global perspective.

    Session 5. Global Governance and Cyber Conflict

    Conflict in cyberspace seems ever less able to be controlled. In the absence of international law and the erosion of norms of behavior, the evolution of technology, and the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), economic dependence and security are increasingly reliant on insecure systems. A panel of academics and practitioners will assess the mix of individual and collective actions that need to be adopted and the consequences for the private sector, as it becomes caught in the middle of cyber conflicts. It will conclude with a view of what should be the sector’s priorities, such as resilience, to form a basis for global cyber agreements.

    Session 6. Can We Achieve Financial Stability in an Era of Growing Cyber Risk?

    Post-financial crisis, regulators have been focused on financial stability. With the rise of sophisticated and complex technologies in the financial sector, cyber risks are increasingly a systemic risk. Columbia SIPA’s Cyber Risk to Financial Stability (CRFS) Project alongside a leading financial risk management practitioner will summarize efforts to date to strengthen systemic cyber resilience, reflect on CRFS’s cyber risk framework, and identify key areas to prioritize for regulators, industry, and academic leaders to support cyber resiliency.

  • Confirmed speakers include:

    • John Battelle  (Recount Media)
    • Lt. Gen. John D. Bansemer (Ret.)
    • Emily Bell (Tow Center for Digital Journalism)
    • Josh Benaloh (Microsoft Research)
    • Anupam Chander (UC Davis School of Law)
    • Laura DeNardis (American University)
    • Renee DiResta (Mozilla Fellow)
    • Victoria Espinel (BSA| The Software Alliance)
    • Gordon Goldstein (CFR)
    • Avril Haines (Columbia World Projects)
    • Jason Healey (Columbia SIPA)
    • Jameel Jaffer (Knight First Amendment Institute)
    • Dean Merit Janow (Columbia SIPA)
    • Ronaldo Lemos (Institute for Technology & Society Rio)
    • Alex Macgillivray (Data & Society)
    • Angela McKay (Microsoft)
    • Patricia Mosser (Columbia SIPA)
    • Eli Noam (Columbia Business School)
    • Joseph Nye (Harvard)
    • Greg Rattray (JPMorgan)
    • Katheryn Rosen (Columbia SIPA)
    • Daniela Rus (MIT)
    • Samm Sacks (New America)
    • David Sanger (New York Times)
    • JoAnn Stonier (MasterCard)
    • Kara Swisher (Recode)
    • Eric Talley (Columbia Law School)
    • Mac Warner (West Virginia Secretary of State)
    • Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures)
    • Jeannette Wing (Data Science Institute)
    • Tom Wipf (Morgan Stanley)
    • Tim Wu (Columbia Law School)
  • This conference was hosted by:

    For more than 70 years, Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) has been equipping future leaders with the skills, knowledge and intellectual curiosity to solve the world’s most critical public policy challenges. Through a rigorous and multidisciplinary curriculum, practical capstone projects and field work that engage real world issues, and connections to world-renowned scholars and practitioners, SIPA students learn to make a positive difference in the world, whether in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. At home in Columbia’s university community and the global City of New York, SIPA is a uniquely diverse, international and entrepreneurial community that brings together world leaders of diverse backgrounds, skills, and perspectives.

    SIPA Tech and Policy Initiative fuses public policy, engineering, data science and entrepreneurship through a variety of activities, including new courses on data analytics and visualization; a Challenge Grant that invites graduate students to combine ICT and data to solve urban challenges globally; participation with Columbia Entrepreneurship in a start-up lab in lower NYC; and interdisciplinary research around internet policy issues including internet governance, cyber security and the digital economy. This new research is aimed at deepening collaboration at Columbia University across disciplines as well as convening interdisciplinary expert groups, such as at this Conference. By equipping the next generation of public policy students and scholars with a deeper understanding of new technology, nurturing organizations that are building novel tech-based solutions to pressing public policy problems, and supporting cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, SIPA is stimulating a host of creative endeavors at the intersection of technology and public policy.

    With support from:

    We also are deeply grateful to the Niejelow/Rodin family for their generous support.

    With the participation of:

    The Knight First Amendment Institute defends the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Our aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.

    The Data Science Institute at Columbia University is training the next generation of data scientists and developing innovative technology to serve society. With nearly 200-affilated faculty working in a wide range of disciplines, the Institute seeks to foster collaboration in advancing techniques to gather and interpret data, and to address the urgent problems facing society. The Institute works closely with industry to bring promising ideas to market.

    Tow Center for Digital Journalism, led by director Emily Bell since our founding in 2010, our team of researchers examines digital journalism's industry-wide economic trends, its cultural shifts, and its relationship with the broader, constantly changing world of technology. Operating as an institute within Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, the center provides journalists with the skills and knowledge to lead the future of digital journalism and serves as a research and development center for the profession as a whole.

    And assistance with livestreaming from: The Internet Society


  • Welcome & Brief Introduction - Merit E. Janow
  • Opening Comments - Kara Swisher
  • Session 1 - Can We De-Weaponize Social Media for Speech?
  • Session 2 - Digital Technology and the Future of Elections
  • Session 3 - Can We Navigate Major Regulatory Transformations?
  • Session 4 - AI & Governance
  • Lunch & Keynote Address - David Sanger & John Battelle
  • Session 5 - Global Governance and Cyber Conflict
  • Cybersecurity Fireside Chat - Lt. Gen. John D. Bansemer (Ret.) & Greg Rattray
  • Session 6 - Financial Stability in an Era of Growing Cyber Risk?
  • Closing Remarks - Laura DeNardis
  • Closing Remarks - Gordon M. Goldstein
  • Closing Remarks - Merit E. Janow