Socrates Seminar “Information Wanted to Be Free: Liberalism’s Tech Reckoning”
Aspen Institute España and Fundación Telefónica, in collaboration with Google, hosted on October 7-10, 2022, a new edition of the Socrates Seminar “Information Wanted to Be Free: Liberalism’s Tech Reckoning”. This seminar, which belongs to the Tech & Society Program, organized in collaboration with Fundación Telefónica, was held at Real Maestranza de Ronda. Leigh Hafrey, Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, will moderate the Seminar.
Following the lines determined by Aspen Institute in the US, the Socrates España Seminars provide a forum for emerging leaders (between the ages of 28 and 45) from various professions to convene and reflect on contemporary issues through expert-moderated dialogues. These seminars enable participants to explore current and pressing leadership challenges. Discussions are built around contemporary texts and are led by expert moderators who engage and encourage participants to share their views. At the core of these Seminars is a remarkable group of emerging and recognized leaders including entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, representatives from the public sector, and journalists, among others.
Aspen Institute España and Fundación Telefónica hosted the first edition of the program in 2017. In its sixth edition, the Program has become the main forum in Spain for reflection on the challenges posed by the new technologies. The fifth edition hosted various leaders from civil society, including Evgeny Morozov, a writer, and researcher specializing in the political and social implications of technology, to debate advances in digital technology and its influence in areas as diverse as human relations, politics, education, economy or medicine.
Information Wanted to Be Free: Liberalism’s Tech Reckoning
In the 1980s and 90s, many people thought that our technologies had finally put utopia within reach: across the civil, private, and public sectors, we celebrated new freedoms that cutting-edge thinkers and developers in Silicon Valley and elsewhere were bringing us. Perhaps coincidentally, the turn from one decade to the next also witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disruption of the collectivist societies that it sheltered. Western liberalism, which famously valued individual freedom, reason, markets, and the rule of law, appeared not just to have won the Cold War but to have brought us, as Francis Fukuyama put it in 1992, to “the end of history.”
Thirty years later, we have had ample reason to reconsider. It isn’t just the tech’ bubble of 2000 or the Great Recession of 2007 and years following or the coronavirus pandemic or the impact of ever-more-evident climate change. It isn’t even wars in the former Yugoslavia or Syria or Iraq and Afghanistan; most immediately, it isn’t Putin’s Russia rejecting in Ukraine everything from Plato to NATO. The collected voices in “Information Wanted to Be Free: Liberalism’s Tech Reckoning,” argue that the technologies liberal thinking nurtured have indeed perfected a simulacrum of the ideal; in so doing, however, they have fed both chaos and the authoritarianism that might control it.
“Information Wanted to Be Free” starts with a module on moments in the halcyon days of Silicon Valley, traces the appropriation of that founding spirit and the technologies it enabled and looks at its underlying, contrarian philosophical assumptions. The second module explores the nexus of challenges that have followed from those developments across sectors for multiple stakeholders. In a third module, finally, we consider efforts by the EU and other entities to reimagine our tech-enabled social structures. Here, too, liberal thinking has a role to play, if we know how best to manage its application and redeem what we plausibly saw in it at the outset.
Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Since 1991, Hafrey has worked in professional ethics, with a focus on ethical leadership, teaching courses at Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan, and consulting with professional practitioners in the United States and abroad. At MIT Sloan, he teaches in the MBA program and Leaders for Global Operations, for which he moderates a mandatory two-year leadership course. He has also taught in MIT’s Industrial Liaison, MIT-China Management Education, Master of Finance, Management of Technology, Nanyang Fellows, Sloan Fellows in Innovation and Global Leadership, Supply Chain Management, and System Design and Management programs. Since 1996, Hafrey has moderated the Aspen Institute’s Seminar in Leadership, Values, and the Good Society and other seminars sponsored by the Institute in the U.S. and abroad. From 1993 to 2010, together with his wife, Sandra Naddaff, Hafrey was a co-Master of Mather House, one of the 12 residential complexes in Harvard College. The Mather community brings together 400 undergraduates; 100 faculty, administrative, and alumni fellows; and dozens of advisory and other staff. A former staff editor at The New York Times Book Review, Hafrey has published reporting, essays, reviews, interviews, and translations in The New York Times and other American and European periodicals. He serves on the editorial advisory board of Philosophy of Management (U.K.) and the Journal of Business Ethics Education (U.S.). His publications on business and management include a quarterly column for IPA’s Business Today (2007-09); cases and blogs for MIT Sloan; a book on how people use stories to articulate ethical norms, The Story of Success: Five Steps to Mastering Ethics in Business (2005); and War Stories: Fighting, Competing, Imagining, Leading, an essay on business alternatives to a culture of war in today’s America (2016). Hafrey holds an AB in English from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Yale University.