Is Tech Really Neutral
It’s time for a tech renaissance. It’s time for us to amplify a movement where people are ‘enlightened’ to build tech platforms that help uplift the human experience.
Here’s what Matthew Prince, Co-Founder & CEO of Cloudflare had to say about the way internet companies react to offensive material on their networks.
“My whims and those of Jeff [Bezos] and Larry [Page] and Satya [Nadella] and Mark [Zuckerberg] - that shouldn’t be what determines what should be online. I think the people who run The Daily Stormer are abhorrent. But again I don’t think my political decisions should determine who should and shouldn’t be on the internet.”
Why shouldn’t your political and moral views shape who you choose to serve as a client?
The recent Charlottesville incident has opened Pandora’s box and is forcing technologists, society, and governments to have hard conversations about how people (users) are choosing to use our products (tech). Many questions are being raised by the shutdown of The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, by Twitter, Google, GoDaddy, and finally Cloudflare following intense social media pressure (ironically also powered by tech) and not necessarily by choice.
· Who should be the judge of what the platforms/products are used for? Should there even be a judge?
· What is the role of morality and values in all of this?
So add to this, the rise in suicide rates, terrorism, and organized racism powered by the internet and social media, is tech really neutral? Is it really neutral when it takes an AI chatbot less than 24 hours to become a confused, angry bigot?
To further our discussion, let’s take the example of guns. The designer of a gun had an intention when it was created. All products have a design intention by its creator based on some perceived need. I think we can safely assume the design intention of a gun is to kill so the product itself is not neutral. Now guns can be used to save or take lives depending on its user. So who has moral obligation to influence how the gun should be used?
While the government may regulate at the macro-level, the truth is that the leaders (creators, manufacturers, designers) of the gun company actually get to choose at the micro-level. They choose who they sell to, how they market it and how they distribute the guns. They will make these choices based on their values. If they value profit above all else, they will sell to the highest bidder even if they are terrorists and child killers. If they value national pride or children more than profit, they may lose those customers. The actions they take will reflect on their values, even if implicit.
Prince made the decision to shut down The Daily Stormer. He was not forced to. He did it because there was a misalignment to his values. As the CEO of Cloudforce, he had the right to choose who to service and take on as a client.
Values and Design Intention
Perhaps we would be able to better anticipate extreme use cases and put in place our own mechanisms, guidelines, and policies around who we sell to, how we market and how we distribute our platforms.
We could do this by choice or by force.
As founder of Gnowbe, a mobile learning and engagement platform where anyone can create content, I find myself asking these questions as we build out our platform. What’s my point of view on who uses our platform, what kind of content should be on it and how should we market our platform?
Time for Tech Renaissance
It’s time for a tech renaissance. It’s time for us to amplify a cultural movement where people are ‘enlightened’ to build tech platforms that help uplift the human experience. like the work Gbenga Sesan is doing to turn Nigerian scam artists into tech entrepreneurs who create apps that help people through the Paradigm Initiative.
The movement has already started with Facebook, Microsoft , YouTube and Twitter launching an anti-terrorism partnership. But given that there are 3 new startups being formed every second or 11,000 per hour, the tech renaissance must extend beyond the tech giants to the individual founders who are making choices every single day.
It’s time to have a point of view on how we intend for people to use our products based on our values. All values have a cost. That may mean you may lose some customers along the way.
The tech renaissance is not about following a single point-of-view (POV). It’s about having your unique POV and reflecting it intentionally as you design and build amazing technologies. It’s not about waiting to be told what’s acceptable or not. I believe it’s time to rethink how we build our products and platforms, who we sell to and how we market them. We already do it implicitly and our decisions reflect our values. Perhaps time now to bring this conversation into the limelight and make it explicit.
We owe it to humanity as our products are transforming how we live at a pace never seen before. Please join me in amplifying a tech renaissance for humanity. #TechRenaissance
Original article published by the World Economic Forum