You Say You Want a Digital Revolution

June 19, 2020

Professor Soon Ae Chun launches a new journal to explore the impact of AI and other digital advances on government, individuals, and democracy.

Professor Soon Ae Chun
Professor Soon Ae Chun

Professor Soon Ae Chun (GC/College of Staten Island, Computer Science), a founding co-editor-in-chief of Digital Government: Research and Practice (DGOV), is an expert on digital government, security, and privacy. She recently spoke with The Graduate Center about why this interdisciplinary, open-access journal is critical to understanding the digital revolution in government now and for the future. 

The Graduate Center: What was the impetus for this journal? What drew you towards looking at how governments interact with digital tech?

Chun: Advances in information and communication technology (ICT) have been breathtakingly rapid and have transported us into the age of the digital economy and the digital society. The public sector has incorporated many ICT technologies to better deliver its traditional services, from handing out benefits to enforcing rules and regulations. It has become essential to re-think the fundamental concepts of governance and democracy, functions, roles, policy-making, and participation in the public sector in the face of this digital revolution. The policies or laws governing the new data collections, algorithms, devices, and services are nascent, and sometimes do not exist at all.  

The journal was established to exchange and explore new theories, research methods and results, future visions, and experience reports about the design and implementation of ICT in the public sector. This includes digital governance, digital citizenry, and how a future society should respond to the continuously evolving transformations of society, locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.  

GC: There is a lot of emphasis put on the interdisciplinary aspect of the journal, and it goes beyond just computer science and data science. Why was it so important to include social and political methodologies and contributions as well?

Chun: Each innovation has impacts on humans and the society we live in. How would the new tools and services transform our daily activities and our ideas, and how can they be used to achieve an equitable and fair world?  

Social scientists and legal experts, as well as many other disciplinary scholars, need to continuously assess ICT's far-reaching impacts, benefits, and harms to individuals, organizations, and society. For instance, online platform providers can make many amazing services available, just think of search engines. But the privacy of individuals may be endangered, and the power of the platform providers to control who can post what information may have to be carefully scrutinized from diverse perspectives. We have to think about individuals’ well-being, their rights, responsibilities, and pursuit of happiness, and also about organizational behaviors and their sustainability, fair government, and governance where citizens can meaningfully participate in decision-making.   

GC: This is a very critical time we are in now. Is there any particular aspect of digital technology within government institutions that you are personally monitoring or that you would like to see analyzed more?

Chun: We are facing so many societal challenges stemming from big data, mobile, social, and AI technologies, as well as the impending 5G networks that will bring us to yet another inflection point. Until now, legislation has been trying to catch up with technology. There will be a great need for novel policy analysis methods, tools, approaches, and paradigms. Data collection through citizen participation will become a routine operation. In addition, there is an eroding trust in the public and private institutions that we have come to rely on, stemming from many issues, such as exploitation or breaches of personal and sensitive data, mis- and dis-information, and excessive surveillance. New trust-building approaches, theories, and tools at all levels of public and private institutions are of great interest.   

Computational algorithms and data mining may perpetuate the implicit biases and unfairness of their designers, in hiring decisions, for example, and might even pose a threat to democracy. The approaches to and theories for overcoming these issues are now receiving great interest as a research area. Increasingly, current and future society and government will be based on information processing and knowledge products created by computational approaches without human intervention. How can we then design a fair and equitable public sector? What are the future citizens’ rights and responsibilities relative to non-human decision-makers? These are some of the hot topics for which we hope to see more novel design ideas, tools, cases, and empirical studies in this journal.    

GC: We often hear of the importance of writing and getting published in journals for graduate work in the sciences. As an editor, what exactly are you looking for in a piece? What should an aspiring scientific writer prioritize?

Chun: It is important to have appropriate datasets to illustrate the problem, to design experiments or models to explain the data, and to interpret the results and discuss the implications of findings for different stakeholders. I would say that the research publications need to be motivational, innovative, methodically sound, convincing, and impactful.