The Future of Democracy | System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot
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The Future of Democracy Working Group at the Institute for Public Knowledge and The GovLab at NYU Tandon invite you to join this conversation with Jeremy Weinstein, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, Rob Reich, Director of Stanford University’s Center for Ethics in Society, and Mehran Sahami, James and Ellenor Chesebrough Professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, about their new book, “SYSTEM ERROR.”
SYSTEM ERROR: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot (September 7, 2021; Harper; E-Galleys: NetGalley, Edelweiss), by Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy Weinstein, exposes the root of our current predicament: how big tech’s relentless focus on optimization is driving a future that reinforces discrimination, erodes privacy, displaces workers, and pollutes the information we get. This optimization mindset substitutes what companies care about for the values that we as a democratic society might choose to prioritize. Well-intentioned optimizers fail to measure all that is meaningful and, when their creative disruptions achieve great scale, they impose their values upon the rest of us.
Troubled by the values that permeate the university’s student body and its culture, the authors worked together to chart a new path forward, creating a popular course to transform how tomorrow’s technologists approach their profession. Now, as the dominance of big tech becomes an explosive societal conundrum, they share their provocative insights and concrete solutions to help everyone understand what is happening, what is at stake, and what we can do to control technology instead of letting it control us.
Rob Reich is a philosopher, the director of Stanford University’s Center for Ethics in Society, co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and associate director of its new Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. He is a leading thinker at the intersection of ethics and technology, the author of Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better. A former sixth grade teacher, he has won multiple teaching awards at Stanford. He helped to create the global movement #GivingTuesday and serves as chair of its board.
Mehran Sahami was recruited to Google in its start-up days by Sergey Brin and is one of the inventors of email spam-filtering technology. With a background in machine learning and artificial intelligence, he returned to Stanford as a computer science professor in 2007 and now holds the James and Ellenor Chesebrough Professorship in Engineering. As the Associate Chair for Education in the computer science department, he helped redesign the program’s undergraduate curriculum. He is one of the instructors of Stanford’s massive introductory computer programming course taken by nearly 1,500 students per year. Mehran is also a limited partner in several VC funds and serves as an adviser to high-tech start-ups.
Jeremy M. Weinstein, a political scientist, went to Washington with President Obama in 2009. A key staffer in the White House, he foresaw how new technologies might remake the relationship between governments and citizens and launched Obama’s Open Government Partnership. When Samantha Power was appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations, she brought Jeremy to New York, first as her chief of staff and then as her deputy. He returned to Stanford in 2015 as a professor of political science, where he now leads Stanford Impact Labs, a major university initiative that partners research teams with leaders in the public, private, and social sectors to tackle important social problems. He is a prizewinning author and a decorated teacher whose expertise spans domestic politics and U.S. foreign policy.