The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
The Carr Center is pleased to release its 2020-2021 Annual Report. Take a look at our work, and learn how to get involved.
This past academic year has been a year like no other. In many ways, our mission and work have never felt more relevant since the Center’s founding in 1999. Our 2020–2021 Annual Report highlights the Center’s mission, people, programs, and reach over the past year. In addition to the research, publications, and books developed by our experts, the Center has utilized podcasts, live virtual events, and social media to remain connected remotely with our ever-growing audience around the world. We’d like to thank the community of people who make our work possible: the Carr Center’s faculty, fellows, staff, and Advisory Board; the students at the Harvard Kennedy School; and each of you who has joined us in this unpredictable journey over the past year.
We hope that you remain engaged with our work in the coming months. After all, human rights are not just about institutions, laws, and policies. They are about people coming together, hoping to make the world and their communities a better place—more just, more equitable, and more peaceful.
The concept of media freedom developed in the 20th century alongside efforts to advance governmental transparency and accountability in democracies. Media freedom empowers journalists, enabling them to act as checks on governments and other powerful social actors, and allowing them to contribute to a democratic discourse that is fact-based and accessible. The principle also provides an analytical framework for interrogating the central role that the news media plays in democratic societies. Even so, current understandings of media freedom remain rooted in the historical postwar moment that gave rise to the concept: a period that predates the information revolution and the proliferation of new communications technologies.
Technological change has transformed the economics of the news industry and undermined the ad-supported business models of legacy media organizations. This destabilization poses a fundamental challenge to the old model of media freedom, forcing questions of who today is entitled to media freedom and whether current media freedom protections are sufficient. To ensure the ongoing relevance of media freedom, the concept must evolve to address the contemporary conditions of news production, and the new impediments to gathering and disseminating fact-based information in the public interest.
Located at the intersection of political philosophy, philosophy of technology and political history, this essay reflects on medium and long-term prospects and challenges for democracy that arise from AI, emphasizing how critical a stage this is. Modern democracies involve structures for collective choice that periodically empower relatively few people to steer the social direction for everybody. As in all forms of governance, technology shapes how this unfolds. Specialized AI changes what philosophers of technology would call the materiality of democracy, not just in the sense that independent actors deploy different tools. AI changes how collective decision making unfolds and what its human participants are like (how they see themselves in relation to their environment, what relationships they have and how those are designed, and generally what form of human life can get realized). AI and democracy are not “natural allies:” it takes active design choices and much political will for AI so serve democratic purposes.
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“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse