Wow. Technologists everywhere, please read this piece by Om Malik​. He nails it.

Wow. Technologists everywhere, please read this piece by Om Malik​. He nails it.

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Wow. Technologists everywhere, please read this piece by Om Malik​. He nails it.

The lack of empathy in technology design doesn’t exist because the people who write algorithms are heartless but perhaps because they lack the texture of reality outside the technology bubble.


  1. I tend to think that philosophy gets it wrong here. Motives for action are linked to profit and power. Less to techo-utopian philosophy.

  2. Agreed, Bob Calder​, this are the primary drives, and they rest on very ancient shoulders. The question is: how do we rise above these more primitive drives so that our tools actually promote our more aspirational selves?

  3. Absolutely, Bob Calder. Some force from outside — not Silicon Valley, but enlightened government — needs to control this. Because ‘innovators’ themselves are a) driven by the huge profits that come from market and supply-chain disruption; b) driven to externalize their liabilities and commodify their complements (one of their complements usually being ‘labor’); and c) obsessed with the self-serving narrative that what they’re doing is for the good of consumers (which it may be, in some cases) and for society and humanity as a whole (which depends on many things, but more than most other things, on the pace of disruption).

  4. John Jainschigg​, the problem I see is that it is getting increasingly difficult for government to keep pace and know what the ‘right’ answers are… at least on a micro level.

    That’s why I think we need to start focusing on a few key leverage points, and one of the most powerful and destructive is the belief in shareholder primacy.

  5. Gideon Rosenblatt​

    Supposedly, computer science curricula have at least one “Technology & Ethics” course. The fundamental question being “You can do this, but should you?”

    Maybe government doesn’t need to keep up. Maybe the government needs to introduce technology ethics courses into public education at the earliest levels and continuing on up. Then people will have the cognitive tools they need to decide what rules, regulations, or trends they want to get behind and how to think about tech in general.

  6. I think most people could be more empathetic.

  7. Gideon Rosenblatt – I tend to think of it more in terms of enabling ideas while restricting the speed at which they grow, the scales they can reach, and the pace of change they impose. The ecology can manage natural evolution if novel entities are introduced judiciously and capitalized to grow slowly — so micromanagement of actuals is something government is never called on to do.

    What we have now, however, is more like fragile, complex, climax ecologies under assault by invasive species with no natural enemies.

    I wonder if, instead of focusing on the values-laden matter of shareholder primacy, we should just figure out ways to put the brakes on.

  8. We definately need technology to be used for good. Meaning tools always have a good and bad, like a gun. We need to improve tools to minimize the bad. For example if used to invade privacy, encrypt. If used for promoting disinformation, promote facts. But we must guard against the temptation to exert totalitarian control, like youtube refunding constructive conversation based on its opinion of what is controversial.

  9. I understand the temptation, John Jainschigg​, but the problem now is that we have already reached a momentum where we are left to design or way out our fall back into a very large scale drop in human population. The former is no guarantee, and the latter represents unthinkable human suffering. Technology itself is not the problem; is the intentions sharing it.

  10. Gideon Rosenblatt

    Unfortunately, humanity is likely to suffer a large-scale drop regardless. With the emergence of a world population of 9 billion, suffering is inevitable. Diseases are easier to transmit due to more people packed around and inter-civilation tensions will only grow unless (much) cooler heads prevail. There seems less opportunity for the latter right now.

    With regards to technology, a possible answer is ingraining people with the habit of thinking about what does the most good for the most people rather than what does the most good for a few. Not just the innovators, mind you, but everyone. That’s kind of a dream, though.

  11. Ah — maybe I wasn’t clear. I don’t think limiting scale and rate of growth for technology firms necessarily limits innovation. In fact, I think the reverse is probably true: competition between many smaller actors means more ideas see the light of day, fewer are discarded because they ‘won’t scale’ or otherwise meet the stringent demands of scale-out business for profitability and operational efficiency, markets get subdivided up and personalized to rather than mass-homogenized, logistics becomes more complicated (and smarter in response).

    As you say, technology isn’t the problem. But the ‘creating new technology part’ is also (with the exception of ‘big science’-type R&D) not the problem: in most industries, few people, comparatively speaking, are engaged in that part of the enterprise. An important aspect of the global disruption narrative, in fact, involves people coming along, again and again, and, on a comparative shoestring, producing a credible widget (e.g., a Tesla). Likewise, if you have 50 or so 150-person firms working on cancer cures, you may get one sooner than if you left the whole job to Merck (who is, let’s face it, mostly looking for baldness cures and maybe cancer palliatives — because they scale).

  12. Backward compatibility should be considered for communication. My mom can’t use today’s phones.

  13. Silicon Valley is heartless and soul-less. They could give a crap that their AI, automation, and robotics are massively disrupting society and will displace hundreds of millions of workers around the planet.

  14. There are good examples of applied research bringing excellent outcomes. Cheap pap smears for instance and new solar cell designs that represent a huge investment across the scientific enterprise.

  15. Virtuality vs. Reality

  16. Bob Calder While I applaud the advancements made in science and technology, we must emphasize ethical application for all. Otherwise, technological innovation will only support the wealthy and those with access to power.

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