This article, found via Alper, about the work on ethics by MIT highlights various worrisome perspectives. Whether it is in avoiding regulation, the lobbying, its leadership, or the focus on a specific take that supports a current bigtech development but ignores the wider context. The latter, when it is about (G’s) self driving cars is a glaring example. Because of it I’ve been sceptical of MIT’s work on ethics for at least five years.
Last week danah boyd was presented with an EFF award. She gave a great acceptance speech titled Facing the Great Reckoning Head-On, that contains a plethora of quotes to highlight. Exploring how to make sense of the entire context and dynamics, in which the MIT Media Lab scandal of funding from a badly tainted source could take place (which I previously mentioned here, here and here.) So it’s best to just go read the entire thing.
In stark contrast, Lawrence Lessig’s ‘exploration’ makes no sense to me, and comes across as tone deaf, spending hundreds of words putting forward a straw man that if you accept tainted funding it always should be anonymous, while saying he personally wouldn’t accept such funding. That might well be, but has no real bearing on the case. Instead of putting forward how hard it is to raise funding, he could just as well have argued that higher education should be publicly funded, and funded well to avoid situations like at MIT Media Lab. A model that works well around the globe. Lessig wrote a book against corruption, meaning the funding focus of US politics, but doesn’t here call out the private funding of higher education on the same terms, even though the negative consequences are the same.
On the other hand boyd’s speech addresses the multiple layers involved. One’s own role in a specific system, and in a specific institute, how privilege plays out. How the deeply personal, the emotional and the structures and systems we create relate to and mutually impact each other. Acknowledging and sketching out the complexity, and then to seek where meaningful boundaries are is much maturer way to take this on than Lessig’s highlighting a single dimension of a situation which seems minimally pertinent to it, and worse because of its ‘flatness’ is easily perceived to be actively denying the emotional strata involved and in dire need of recognition.
As said go read the entire speech, but I’ll pick out a few quotes nevertheless. They are pertinent to topics I blog about here, such as the recently launched TechPledge, the role of community, the keys to agency, and resonates with my entire take on technology.
The story of how I got to be standing here is rife with pain and I need to expose part of my story in order to make visible why we need to have a Great Reckoning in the tech industry. This award may be about me, but it’s also not. It should be about all of the women and other minorities who have been excluded from tech by people who thought they were helping.
I am here today in-no-small-part because I benefited from the generosity of men who tolerated and, in effect, enabled unethical, immoral, and criminal men. And because of that privilege, I managed to keep moving forward even as the collateral damage of patriarchy stifled the voices of so many others around me.
What’s happening at the Media Lab right now is emblematic of a broader set of issues plaguing the tech industry and society more generally. Tech prides itself in being better than other sectors. But often it’s not.
If change is going to happen, values and ethics need to have a seat in the boardroom. Corporate governance goes beyond protecting the interests of capitalism. Change also means that the ideas and concerns of all people need to be a part of the design phase and the auditing of systems, even if this slows down the process.
…whether we like it or not, the tech industry is now in the business of global governance.
“Move fast and break things” is an abomination if your goal is to create a healthy society…In a healthy society, we strategically design to increase social cohesion because binaries are machine logic not human logic.
…accountability without transformation is simply spectacle.
The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good. But it’s not enough to say that we’re going to do good; we need to collectively define — and hold each other to — shared values and standards.
Human progress needs the the tech sector to be actively reflective, and to continuously scrutinise its ethics, the values and morals actually expressed in behaviour.
The MIT-Epstein debacle shows ‘the prostitution of intellectual activity’. Time for a radical agenda: close the Media Lab, disband Ted Talks and refuse tech billionaires money
New documents show that the M.I.T. Media Lab was aware of Epstein’s status as a convicted sex offender, and that Epstein directed contributions to the lab far exceeding the amounts M.I.T. has publicly admitted.
Lesson 1 on crisis communication. Come. Clean. Fully. Immediately. Otherwise it is a drip drip drip drip of trust erosion, until everything crumbles. My university friend D did his thesis on crisis comms, in the aftermath of having lived through and closely experiencing a crisis in our home town. Just under 20 years on, the lesson is still accurate.
It is additionally hard on those who, based on the limited earlier disclosures chose to stand with you, if you then are found out to not have disclosed the entire story.
(previously posted on this.)
Came across this post by Ruben Verborgh from last December, “Paradigm Shifts for the Decentralised Web“.
I find it helpful because of how it puts different aspects of wanting to decentralise the web into words. Ruben Verborgh mentions 3 simultaneous shifts:
1) End-users own their data, which is the one mostly highlighted in light of things like the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal.
2) Apps become views, when they are disconnected from the data, as they are no longer the single way to see that data
3) Interfaces become queries, when data is spread out over many sources.
Those last two specifically help me think of decentralisation in different ways. Do read the whole thing.