System Error

System Error

Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot

Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, Jeremy M. Weinstein

$21.02

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Description

A forward-thinking manifesto from three Stanford professors—experts who have worked at ground zero of the tech revolution for decades—which reveals how big tech’s obsession with optimization and efficiency has sacrificed fundamental human values and outlines steps we can take to change course, renew our democracy, and save ourselves.

In no more than the blink of an eye, a naïve optimism about technology’s liberating potential has given way to a dystopian obsession with biased algorithms, surveillance capitalism, and job-displacing robots. Yet too few of us see any alternative to accepting the onward march of technology. We have simply accepted a technological future designed for us by technologists, the venture capitalists who fund them, and the politicians who give them free rein.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

System Error 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.

Armed with an understanding of how technologists think and exercise their power, three Stanford professors—a philosopher working at the intersection of tech and ethics, a political scientist who served under Obama, and the director of the undergraduate Computer Science program at Stanford (also an early Google engineer)—reveal how we can hold that power to account.

Troubled by the values that permeate the university’s student body and its culture, they 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.


Author

Rob Reich:

ROB REICH is a philosopher who directs Stanford University’s Center for Ethics in Society and is associate director of its new Institute for Human-­Centered Artificial Intelligence. He is a leading thinker at the intersection of ethics and technology, a prizewinning author, and has won multiple teaching awards. He helped create the global movement #GivingTuesday and serves as chair of its board.

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MEHRAN SAHAMI was recruited to Google in its start-­up days by Sergey Brin and was 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 helped redesign the undergraduate computer science 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.

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JEREMY M. WEINSTEIN 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.

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