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Paul Merrell

"In 10 Years, the Surveillance Business Model Will Have Been Made Illegal" - - 1 views

  • The opening panel of the Stigler Center’s annual antitrust conference discussed the source of digital platforms’ power and what, if anything, can be done to address the numerous challenges their ability to shape opinions and outcomes present. 
  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai caused a worldwide sensation earlier this week when he unveiled Duplex, an AI-driven digital assistant able to mimic human speech patterns (complete with vocal tics) to such a convincing degree that it managed to have real conversations with ordinary people without them realizing they were actually talking to a robot.   While Google presented Duplex as an exciting technological breakthrough, others saw something else: a system able to deceive people into believing they were talking to a human being, an ethical red flag (and a surefire way to get to robocall hell). Following the backlash, Google announced on Thursday that the new service will be designed “with disclosure built-in.” Nevertheless, the episode created the impression that ethical concerns were an “after-the-fact consideration” for Google, despite the fierce public scrutiny it and other tech giants faced over the past two months. “Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing,” tweeted Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a prominent critic of tech firms.   The controversial demonstration was not the only sign that the global outrage has yet to inspire the profound rethinking critics hoped it would bring to Silicon Valley firms. In Pichai’s speech at Google’s annual I/O developer conference, the ethical concerns regarding the company’s data mining, business model, and political influence were briefly addressed with a general, laconic statement: “The path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right.”
  • Google’s fellow FAANGs also seem eager to put the “techlash” of the past two years behind them. Facebook, its shares now fully recovered from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is already charging full-steam ahead into new areas like dating and blockchain.   But the techlash likely isn’t going away soon. The rise of digital platforms has had profound political, economic, and social effects, many of which are only now becoming apparent, and their sheer size and power makes it virtually impossible to exist on the Internet without using their services. As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson noted in the opening panel of the Stigler Center’s annual antitrust conference last month, Google and Facebook—already dominating search and social media and enjoying a duopoly in digital advertising—own many of the world’s top mobile apps. Amazon has more than 100 million Prime members, for whom it is usually the first and last stop for shopping online.   Many of the mechanisms that allowed for this growth are opaque and rooted in manipulation. What are those mechanisms, and how should policymakers and antitrust enforcers address them? These questions, and others, were the focus of the Stigler Center panel, which was moderated by the Economist’s New York bureau chief, Patrick Foulis.
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