Silicon Valley Raises Questions On Ethics Of New Technology And Social Media NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Caterina Fake. She's a co-founder of Flickr, a venture capitalist, and host of the podcast Should This Exist? about the impact of technology on humanity.
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Should This Exist? The Ethics Of New Technology

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Should This Exist? The Ethics Of New Technology

Should This Exist? The Ethics Of New Technology

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Tech companies decide to kill products and ideas for products all the time. Maybe it doesn't work; there's no market - whatever. But what about when the tech is too dangerous? That's what Caterina Fake wants Silicon Valley to consider more often, the ethics of new tech. She hosts the podcast "Should This Exist?" And she joins us now from San Francisco. Thanks so much for being on WEEKEND EDITION.

CATERINA FAKE: And thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you think about this all the time. But we thought about it because OpenAI, the research nonprofit, announced they weren't releasing a text generator they developed because they feared it could be misused to create fake news. Did that admission take you by surprise?

FAKE: Tech companies don't launch products all the time. But it's rare that they announce that they're not launching a product, which is what has happened here. And the announcement of not launching this product is basically to involve people in the conversation around what is and what is not dangerous tech.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are in Silicon Valley. You're the co-founder of Flickr. One of the things that always struck me was at the beginning, the conversation among developers there was always, like, we are doing this for the greater good. This is part of a good for society. Has that conversation changed?

FAKE: I think it has. For example, when we had first started Flickr, we kind of understood that what we were building was online community. Online community is something where you show up. You are yourself. You have to participate. And you have to negotiate the culture of the community in which you are participating.

In a social media platform, you are our so-called eyeballs. You are a product that is being sold to advertisers. It's a completely different dynamic. And when things switched from being very early on thought of as online community to being thought of as social media, the dynamics of the entire software changed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So in your podcast, "Should This Exist?," I mean, what kinds of questions are you grappling with right now? I'm sure you see things all the time that are being promoted, and you think nah, this isn't going...

FAKE: That should...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To be a good.

FAKE: ...Not exist.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That should not exist.

FAKE: (Laughter). I think it would be wonderful if I were the sole arbiter of what should and should not exist.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Me too.

FAKE: But really, we have been talking about this in the Valley forever. But it was not getting a lot of attention. And there was a kind of a catastrophic change that happened I think when, unexpectedly, to many of us, the 2016 elections had results that we did not anticipate for reasons that we could suddenly see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you say to people, though, who say that any product or platform can be misused and that it's impossible to plan for every eventuality?

FAKE: The important part of this is to acculturate people to asking these questions. And as we all know, millennials and Gen Z and the younger folk that are now, you know, kind of coming into their own, are much more thoughtful about, what are the values behind this product or this program? And what does it do to us?

For example, one of the last shows was about a product called Woebot. And what it is, it's an AI-driven bot therapist. And as we know, depression has increased, which has followed very closely the introduction of technology into our lives.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's studies that show that kids, specifically that are on a lot of technology and social media, feel more depressed, more alienated from their peers, et cetera.

FAKE: Yes. And my initial impulse was, gosh, should we use technology to cure the problems of technology? That seems misguided. But by the end of thinking through some of the, you know, possibilities of this technology, I became convinced that, in fact, this was probably a good solution for it.

I feel as if technology can always be used for good, right? It has neutral valence. It is the way that humans use it and how we approach it and how we think about it. That is what is the most important part of technology and technology in our lives.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Caterina Fake is a co-founder of Flickr, a venture capitalist and a host of the podcast "Should This Exist?" Thank you so much.

FAKE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MYLAB'S "FANCY PARTY CAKES")

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