Cambridge
September 10, 2021

The Edgelands Institute Launch!

Jamie Guterman

How are digital surveillance technologies changing the social contracts in urban settings and what can people and cities do about it?

A screenshot of texts and questions that together form a skyline of a city.

(Click HERE for the living photo design) Art by Sarah Newman: Director of Art and Education at Harvard’s MetaLAB & Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Kim Albrecht: Aesthetic Researcher at Harvard’s MetaLAB, and Beatriz Botero Arcila: Research Leader and Co-Founder at Edgelands & Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society

“How are digital surveillance technologies changing the social contracts in urban settings and what can people and cities do about it?”

This was the question posed by Yves Daccord, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder, at the Edgelands Institute official soft launch on April 9th and second launch hosted in Central Asian Time on April 26th. The launches, both hour-long interactive events, communicated the mission of Edgelands: to reimagine our urban social contracts to be more people-oriented in a digital age complicated by surveillance technology and its acceleration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The launches featured Edgelands’ coordinators, scholars, and experts in the fields of ethical technology, human rights, law, business, and design (scroll down for the full list of speakers). The launch opened with Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Chair of the Global Advisory Board at Edgelands and Global Disability Advisor at the World Bank. McClain-Nhlapo's experience working with inclusion led her to question what our social contracts should look like and how we can rethink them, especially in cities, and these questions are right at the core of what Edgelands is addressing. 

Both launches also incorporated a panel of guest speakers who used their broad perspectives and expertise to talk about digital surveillance issues. Notable speakers included Elizabeth Adams, Co-founder of Public Oversight of Technology in Minneapolis (POSTME) and Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab and Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford. With a background in cybersecurity, Adams switched gears to work towards making technology more equitable for all in her community when she learned about the depths of algorithmic bias. Executive Director of the Digital Asia Hub Malavika Jayaram also used her vast experiences as a lawyer and technologist to pose questions about the kinds of voices left out of conversations surrounding our social contract and digital surveillance. Jayaram expressed concern about the slippery slope of surveillance, including how during mega-events, for example, the Olympics, people allow their social contracts to be changed in exchange for perceived benefits. Marginalized communities, however, often don't get a seat at the table when it comes to these decisions and discussions about our digital future and social contract. Elisabeth Sylvan, Managing Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society (where Edgelands is currently incubated), echoed this point when she emphasized collaboration between communities and finding common ground on digital transformation and surveillance. 

That being said, as collaboration is at the core of Edgelands’ mission, questions were posed to audience members throughout the launch regarding their views on digital and physical spaces, the future of cities, and connection. Sarah Newman, Director of Art and Education at Harvard’s MetaLAB & Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, asked audience members to submit their own question about what they would like to see in the future of cities and digital relations. At the same time, she showed the work of artists, like JR and Ge Wang, who through their work inspire and accompany social change. Questions were collected from the nearly 200 audience members and combined by the end of the launch to create a digital work of art. Edgelands aims to use the power of design to connect people and foster dialogues about urbanization and technology, so it’s only fitting that audience members’ questions about the digital future were fused together to create a skyline silhouette. Here are some highlighted questions:

How do we make cities safe for everyone? 

What relationship should there be between virtual and physical identities? 

How can Edgelands help bring caring to the core of changing urban life? 

Will we succeed in making cities sustainable green spaces?

If you missed the Edgelands’ Launch head to our Youtube page to watch the events in full: American Launch & Asian Central Time Launch

Full List of Speakers: 

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Chair of the Global Advisory Board at Edgelands & Global Disability Advisor at the World Bank 

Sarah Newman, Director of Art and Education at Harvard’s MetaLAB & Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society 

Yves Daccord, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of the Edgelands Institute & Former Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross 

Rhea Jiang, Edgelands Research Associate & Student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design

Santiago Uribe, Researcher at the Nordic Center for Internet and Society

Jess Valenzuela Ramirez, 1L at Harvard Law School 

Danil Kerimi, COO and Co-Founder at Edgelands 

Beatriz Botero Arcila, Research Leader and Co-Founder at Edgelands & Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society 

Angelo Kaufmann, Research Associate at Edgelands & Business Student at the University of St. Gallen 

Panel Members: Exploring Digital Surveillance Issues:

Elisabeth Sylvan, Managing Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard 

Aleksander Stojanovic, Entrepreneur, Executive, and Expert in Innovation and Regulated Markets 

Elizabeth Adams, Co-founder of Public Oversight of Technology in Minneapolis (POSTME) & Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab and Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford 

Malavika Jayaram, Executive Director of Digital Asia Hub & Faculty at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society 

Adrian Liew, Founder of OPPi