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Todd Suomela

Build a Better Monster: Morality, Machine Learning, and Mass Surveillance - 0 views

  • Unfortunately, the enemy is complacency. Tech workers trust their founders, find labor organizing distasteful, and are happy to leave larger ethical questions to management. A workplace free of 'politics' is just one of the many perks the tech industry offers its pampered employees. So our one chance to enact meaningful change is slipping away.

    Unless something happens to mobilize the tech workforce, or unless the advertising bubble finally bursts, we can expect the weird, topsy-turvy status quo of 2017 to solidify into the new reality.

    But even though we're likely to fail, all we can do is try. Good intentions are not going to make these structural problems go away. Talking about them is not going to fix them.

    We have to do something.

  • Can we fix it?

    Institutions can be destroyed quickly; they take a long time to build.

    A lot of what we call ‘disruption’ in the tech industry has just been killing flawed but established institutions, and mining them for parts. When we do this, we make a dangerous assumption about our ability to undo our own bad decisions, or the time span required to build institutions that match the needs of new realities.

    Right now, a small caste of programmers is in charge of the surveillance economy, and has broad latitude to change it. But this situation will not last for long. The kinds of black-box machine learning that have been so successful in the age of mass surveillance are going to become commoditized and will no longer require skilled artisans to deploy.

    Moreover, powerful people have noted and benefited from the special power of social media in the political arena. They will not sit by and let programmers dismantle useful tools for influence and social control. It doesn’t matter that the tech industry considers itself apolitical and rationalist. Powerful people did not get to be that way by voluntarily ceding power.

    The window of time in which the tech industry can still act is brief: while tech workers retain relatively high influence in their companies, and before powerful political interests have put down roots in the tech industry.

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