Conference Overview

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.

The theme of this year’s Forum is Navigating Digital Transformations: Survive or Thrive? Across a full-day of keynote addresses, panel discussions, and fireside chats, scholars and experts will examine the growing impact of digital technology and data in critical areas such as speech, elections, regulation, artificial intelligence, cyber business risk, and cybersecurity. Each area will focus on governance challenges and possible policy solutions—whether from private individuals, firms, or governments.

Among the key questions that we will discuss today:

  • 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?

Today’s event builds upon four previous annual conferences convened by SIPA’s Tech and Policy Initiative. Each has focused on the potential benefits and costs arising from global digital technology changes in areas such as internet governance and cybersecurity (2015); global data governance(2016); internet fragmentation(2017); and the state of the field on digital transformations (2018). In each instance, we have sought to assess key digital technology challenges and develop possible policy approaches and solutions.

We thank our co-sponsors for this year’s forum: the Columbia University Data Science Institute, Knight First Amendment Institute, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and the Internet Society. We also are deeply grateful to the Niejelow/Rodin family for their generous support.

8:30am – 9:00am

Registration & Breakfast

9:00am – 9:05am

Welcome & Brief Introduction

9:05am – 9:15am

Opening Comments

  • Kara Swisher | Technology Business Journalist and Co-Founder of Recode

9:15am – 10:10am

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

Social media was meant to be an empowering leap in human communications, allowing citizens to be more connected and creative than at any time in human history.  After a decade of rapid growth, global advertising platforms like Facebook and YouTube are commercially successful but civically disastrous. Social media has transformed the public sphere with reckless speed and virtually no regulation. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social platforms are now battling hate speech, propaganda, misinformation and harassment daily. The problem of weaponized speech urgently needs a better response.  Can the platforms provide this with technologies and better corporate governance, or do we need legal and policy remedies to safeguard democracy? A panel of policy, legal, technical and practical experts will tackle these questions and discuss what type of reforms are possible, desirable, and necessary. 

  • Emily Bell (Moderator) | Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School
  • Kara Swisher | Technology Business Journalist and Co-Founder of Recode
  • John Battelle | Co-Founder and CEO, Recount Media
  • Jameel Jaffer | Director, Knight First Amendment Institute, Columbia University
  • Alex Macgillivray | former General Counsel, Twitter, and former Deputy US CTO

10:10am – 11:05am

Session 2
Digital Technology and the Future of Elections

The rise of digital technologies and data science pose new challenges for democracies around the world. Democratic elections are under threat from cyber attacks from external actors aimed at interfering with the election process and undermining public confidence in the results. In addition, social media and advancements in communication technology have made it easier to spread disinformation, with the goal of influencing voter behavior. Online manipulation and disinformation tactics, according to Freedom House, played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries from 2016 to 2017 alone, demonstrating the double-sided nature of the internet; with its potential to both enhance and undermine the integrity of our elections and our democracy. The challenges facing the United States are no less acute than in other countries around the world. According to polls, nearly two out of five voters in the United States do not believe elections are fair, and nearly half of those surveyed lacked faith that their votes would be counted accurately. Voter concerns are consistent with widespread reporting on the state of our election infrastructure, aging equipment targeted by external actors beset by a lack of sustained funding. This panel will explore how digital technologies are changing democratic systems and what we can do to address some of the challenges identified.

11:05am – 11:20am

Morning Break

11:20am – 12:15pm

Session 3
Can We Navigate Major Regulatory Transformations?

The policy paradigm has shifted from simply enabling digital technology to how to regulate these technologies. Across the world, governments are passing legislation seeking to protect election and internet security. The implications of regulations may require not just minor changes to technology firms’ everyday practices, but also require them to find new business models. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) offers both stronger data protection rules and stiffer enforcement. A German NetzDG law requires online platforms to quickly remove “illegal” content. California, home to some of the world’s leading digital enterprises, enacted a broad privacy law that has suddenly prompted legislative activity in state houses across the country and even several federal bills. Faced with American law enforcement demands to access information held abroad, Congress passed the Cloud Act to manage inter-jurisdictional conflicts over data. Facebook has set aside billions of dollars to respond to an anticipated Federal Trade Communications (FTC) fine. How will companies both large and small fare in this new regulatory world? This panel will assess the opportunity as well as impact of regulation.

  • Anupam Chander (Moderator) | Professor, Georgetown University Law Center 
  • Victoria Espinel | President and CEO, BSA | The Software Alliance
  • Eli Noam | Director, Global Institute for Tele-Information, Columbia University
  • Samm Sacks | Cybersecurity Policy Fellow and China Digital Economy Fellow, New America
  • Fred Wilson | Partner, Union Square Ventures
  • Tim Wu | Professor of Law, Science and Technology, Columbia Law School

12:15pm – 1:10pm

Session 4
AI & Governance

AI has permeated many aspects of our daily lives – from movie recommendations, targeted advertising, facial recognition, to sentiment analysis. Increasingly, AI systems will be making decisions with wide-ranging personal and societal consequences (e.g. diagnosing disease, autonomous driving, delivering our packages, determining bail, or detecting terrorists). We will ground this panel’s discussion in an understanding of what AI can do today and then proceed to its long-term effects and applications. While the success of AI and its astonishing applications are incredibly exciting, its ubiquity gives us reason to pause. There are several dimensions to policy questions including: Should AI be regulated? If so, what would it look like? Who should be involved in specifying the rules and enforcing them? Does regulation build consumer confidence in AI systems and in the companies that produce them? This session will address these fundamental questions including the use of AI in the US and China. This session will close by looking at AI and governance from a global perspective.

  • Jeannette Wing (Moderator) | Avanessians Director, Data Science Institute, Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University 
  • Ronaldo Lemos | Director, Institute for Technology and Society of Rio de Janiero
  • Daniela Rus | Director, Computer Science and AI LAB, MIT
  • JoAnn Stonier | Chief Data Officer, MasterCard
  • Eric Talley | Professor, Columbia Law School

1:10pm – 2:15pm

Lunch & Keynote Address

2:15pm – 3:10pm

Session 5
Global Governance and Cyber Conflict

Conflict in cyberspace – primarily but not entirely between states – seems ever less able to be controlled. In the absence of coherent international law on cyberspace, the U.S. government asserts that it is one of few nations respecting norms of proper behavior. Yet John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, recently remarked that “our hands are not tied” and that the US will “take this fight to the enemy, just as we do in other aspects of conflict.” Indeed, some stakeholders would argue that the National Security Advisor’s remarks are an admission of U.S. actions all along – that the United States has not been respecting norms. The United States has sought both a secure cyberspace but not so secure that it cannot conduct significant espionage operations (as revealed by Snowden), cyber-enabled covert action (such as Stuxnet against Iranian nuclear enrichment), and at least the option for strategic and battlefield cyber offensive operations (such as the Nitro Zeus operation planned against Iran). Meanwhile, the underlying technology continues to change in fundamental ways, especially as the Internet of Things drastically increases societal and economic dependence on insecure networks and systems. Cyber attacks which, in the past, might have been ignored or worked around may soon be existential. This panel will address these questions including: What is the mix of individual and collective actions that need to be adopted as the private sector, which creates and uses these technologies, becomes caught in the middle of cyber conflicts and remains an essential partner for global governance? What should be the private sector’s priorities, such as resilience, to form a basis for global cyber agreements?

  • Jason Healey (Moderator) | Senior Research Scholar, Columbia SIPA
  • Laura DeNardis | Professor, American University
  • Angela McKay | Senior Director, Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy, Microsoft
  • Greg Rattray | Director, Global Cyber Partnerships & Government Strategy, JPMorgan Chase

3:10pm – 3:35pm

Cybersecurity Fireside Chat

3:35pm – 3:55pm

Coffee Break

3:55pm – 4:50pm

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

Since the financial crisis a decade ago, government authorities and the financial sector have been working to improve overall resiliency. Parallel to these efforts, governments and industry have been grappling with increasing cyber risk – increased frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks and an ever-growing reliance on digital technology. SIPA’s Cyber Risk to Financial Stability (CRFS) Project examines the gaps and strengthens the intersection of cyber and financial stability community efforts to boost resilience in the financial system. The financial sector is at the forefront of cybersecurity and industry-wide information sharing and collaboration. Over the last few years, institutions have been built to increase resilience within the financial sector – FSARC, the Department of Homeland Security’s National Risk Management Center – while research and regulatory efforts have begun to acknowledge and analyze cyber risks to financial stability – at Columbia SIPA, the Financial Stability Board, and the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research. However, there is more work to be done – for example, there remains a lack of globally coordinated policies and regulations, little understanding of the technology mapping of financial system processes, and how new technologies will impact markets and systems, among other areas of focus. This panel will explore several questions including: Efforts to date in areas of financial stability and cyber risk, reflecting on CRFS’ framework. Key areas to prioritize for government, industry, and academia to support efforts. And what challenges may lie ahead including prescriptions for public and private sector to act to further resiliency.

  • Katheryn Rosen (Moderator) | Adjunct Professor, Columbia SIPA
  • Jason Healey | Senior Research Scholar, Columbia SIPA
  • Patricia Mosser | Director, MPA Program in Economic Policy Management, Columbia SIPA
  • Tom Wipf | Vice Chairman of Institutional Securities, Morgan Stanley; Chair, Treasury Market Practices Group

4:50pm – 5:00pm


5:00pm – 6:00pm

Cocktail Reception