Nov 23rd 2016

Fake news is just the beginning

Facebook is on the defensive after the elections, with accusations that it helped spread misinformation.  For days, Mark Zuckerberg was adamant that his network had not affected the election results, calling that “a pretty crazy idea”.  But after a torrent of criticism from his employees and the media—and evidence to back it up—he relented and took responsibility.  He promised to improve Facebook’s detection, reporting, and verification of news.

An example of what I saw on my Facebook page on Nov 19, 2016

Twitter has been a much worse offender, allowing hatemongers and trolls to harass its users.  It has, for years, known about the large numbers of fake accounts and bots on its platform; yet it has failed to do much about them.  The tech industry has stepped into the field of publishing and communications without accepting the responsibility that comes with doing so. Newspapers would never dare to publish the incendiary posts that are common on social media, because there are laws against hate speech. Yet social media platforms get away with pleading ignorance because there are no clear laws making them liable for what transpires on their networks.

The gaps between laws and ethics are growing exponentially as technologies advance.  The ethical codes we live by and the laws we follow are changing very slowly while technologies move too fast to care.  It isn’t greed and arrogance; more often than not, the technologies’ creators (and this probably includes Zuckerberg) don’t understand the power of their creations—and the damage they can do.

We are going to see much more of that.

Technologies such as computing, medicine, sensors, A.I., robotics, and genomics are now advancing exponentially and are converging.  This means that one industry can encroach on another and cause the type of disruption that social media did to publishing.  I doubt that anyone expected that a dating site set up by a college dropout, Mark Zuckerberg, would have had the ability to change the outcome of the U.S. elections.

The technology industry is building medical devices, robots, and self-driving cars from computers, sensors, and A.I.—the same types of technologies that Uber used to disrupt the taxi industry, and AirBnb, hotels.  They have taken advantage of the gaps between laws and ethics, just as Facebook and Twitter have, to build billion-dollar businesses.  This is what the future holds.

But are we ready for tech companies to become dominant players in the field of medicine, as will happen when we have A.I. applications that can do the work of doctors?  Are we prepared for the elimination of millions of taxi- and truck-driver jobs when Uber’s self-driving vehicles begin to hit the roads?  And are we ready for the “uberization” of large employment segments, as they move into what is called the gig-economy, in which they hire people on demand?  All of this will become a reality in the next five or ten years.

The fact is that we are not prepared for any of it, just as we were not ready for the disruptions that social media caused.  The tech industry, in particular, is happy to book the revenue it gains from other industries and to shirk responsibility for the damage it does.  It is easier to pretend that the technologies do no harm than to deal with the problems they create.

Increasingly pervasive data networks and connected devices are enabling rapid communication and processing of information and ushering in unprecedented shifts—in everything from biology, energy, and media to politics, food, and transportation.  They are redefining our future.  It is imperative that we, as a society, understand technology’s impact on us and hold discussions and even heated debates about its use before that future becomes inevitable reality.



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Vivek Wadhwa is a Fellow at Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering,  Duke University; and Distinguished Fellow at Singularity University. He is author of  “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent”—which was named by The Economist as a Book of the Year of 2012, and ” Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology”—which documents the struggles and triumphs of women.  In 2012, the U.S. Government awarded Wadhwa distinguished recognition as an  “Outstanding American by Choice”— for his “commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans”. He was also named by Foreign Policy Magazine as Top 100 Global Thinker in 2012. In 2013, TIME Magazine listed him as one of The 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech.

Wadhwa oversees research at Singularity University, which educates a select group of leaders about the exponentially advancing technologies that are soon going to change our world.  These advances—in fields such as robotics, A.I., computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials—are making it possible for small teams to do what was once possible only for governments and large corporations to do: solve the grand challenges in education, water, food, shelter, health, and security.

In his roles at Stanford and  Duke, Wadhwa lectures in class on subjects such as entrepreneurship and public policy, helps prepare students for the real world, and leads groundbreaking research projects.  He is an advisor to several governments; mentors entrepreneurs; and is a regular columnist for The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Accelerators, LinkedIn Influencers blog, Forbes, and the American Society of Engineering Education’s Prism magazine.  Prior to joining academia in 2005, Wadhwa founded two software companies.




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Jun 29th 2020
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Jun 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Bonhoeffer’s life holds an important lesson for us today, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. And simply put it is this: you are called upon; you are called on behalf of your neighbor. When you are called to be responsible that is not an obligation which you can decline, discharge or acquit yourself of – it is an infinite responsibility, a “forever commitment” as Charles Blow recently put it. And we all must be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary when we are called."
Jun 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "People differ substantially in how much they’re affected by experiences in their lives. Some people seem to be more affected by daily stress, or the loss of someone close to them. On the other hand, some people seem to get through the same experiences relatively unscathed. Similarly, some people benefit strongly from counselling, or having a support system of close family and friends. Others seem better able to manage on their own. But understanding why some people are more sensitive than others isn’t just a question of how they were raised, and the experiences they’ve been through. In fact, previous research has found that some people in general seem more sensitive to what they experience – and some are generally less sensitive."
Jun 7th 2020
EXTRACT: " The root causes of anthropogenic climate change – which has led to the endangering of countless species across the globe – cannot be adequately grasped in isolation from the technological application of modern science. While Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was certainly justified in calling upon American legislators to “unite behind the science,” neither can we overlook the culpability of science in bringing about the environmental crisis. "
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."