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Elvia Wilk is a writer and editor living in Berlin, covering art, architecture, urbanism, and emerging technologies. She contributes to publications like Frieze, Artforum, e-flux, die Zeit, the Architectural Review, and Metropolis. Currently she's a contributing editor at Rhizome and publications editor for transmediale festival for arts and digital culture.
Sam Altman, president of revered startup-incubator Y Combinator, was horrified after Trump’s election last year. In response, he started an app to get out the vote and a website to track the president’s campaign promises, but “publicizing his feelings and writing code didn’t seem like enough.”
Others around him in Silicon Valley seemed to feel the same:
“Silicon Valley’s leaders were experiencing a rare and remarkable paroxysm of self-doubt. It wasn’t just their sense that they’d poorly deployed their wealth or that, cloistered on the West Coast, they’d misjudged the electorate.”
Many in Silicon Valley find themselves not only inactive on political issues they feel strongly about, but actually implicated in political developments they say they outright oppose. Facebook’s filter-bubble algorithms reinforcing implicit biases and preexisting opinions, and targeted ads leading to fake news sites, are a well-known example.
“Silicon Valley’s investors and CEOs were acknowledging the limits of tech solutionism — that innovation alone could solve our most pressing social problems. But they still believed that if technology had helped put Trump in office, maybe it could also get him out.”
That’s the question at stake, isn’t it? Is there something inherently flawed, manipulative, coercive, about using tech innovation to sway political views, even if they are being manipulated on the side of “good”? Why should tech companies have the power to sway people’s opinions at all?