Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani has resurfaced a terrifying and prescient Twitter thread he posted last year, which argued that some of the largest tech companies in the world are simply incapable of traversing the ethical pitfalls created by their innovations.
Discussing the thread, Nanjiani said he was inspired to revisit his observations because of the unfolding Facebook data scandal, which saw users and regulators alike reel at the knowledge that data from 50 million profiles had been harvested by shadowy political operatives Cambridge Analytica.
“Ethics in tech is going to continue to be a major challenge for civilization going forward,” Nanjiani said.
In case you missed it the first time around, Nanjiani’s thread explained how his unique role on Silicon Valley actually involved meeting tech innovators – who often were unprepared for the societally-warping power of their creations.
As a cast member on a show about tech, our job entails visiting tech companies/conferences etc. We meet ppl eager to show off new tech.
Often we’ll see tech that is scary. I don’t mean weapons etc. I mean altering video, tech that violates privacy, stuff w obv ethical issues.
And we’ll bring up our concerns to them. We are realizing that ZERO consideration seems to be given to the ethical implications of tech.
They don’t even have a pat rehearsed answer. They are shocked at being asked. Which means nobody is asking those questions.
“We’re not making it for that reason but the way ppl choose to use it isn’t our fault. Safeguard will develop.” But tech is moving so fast.
That there is no way humanity or laws can keep up. We don’t even know how to deal with open death threats online.
Only “Can we do this?” Never “should we do this? We’ve seen that same blasé attitude in how Twitter or Facebook deal w abuse/fake news.
That insight feels especially chilling given the kind of responses to the issue doled out by Facebook’s main man Mark Zuckerberg. In a statement on the issue, Zuckerberg detailed the formerly blasé approach to user information that enabled Cambridge Analytica to run off with a treasure trove of user information.
Nanjiani’s observation that some innovators are apparently “shocked at being asked” about the ethical implications of their tech mirrors an anecdote recently shared by someone who believes they may have been the first person to ever ask to leave Facebook.
David Singerman claimed that he emailed Facebook in 2004 in order to nuke his account. According to him, Zuckerberg himself replied – and was incredulous.
“There’s no option to delete your account,” Singerman recalled Zuckerberg saying. “Why would you want to do that? It never crossed my mind that someone would want to.”