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tv   Noam Cohen The Know- It- Alls  CSPAN  December 31, 2017 1:40am-3:30am EST

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officials during our washington journal program. follow the tour and join us on generally 16 at 9:30 a.m. eastern for our stop in raleigh, north carolina what our washington journal guest is north carolina attorney general, josh stein. >> hello. we are going to get started here tonight. my name is seth, director of the communications forum and a couple of announcements before we start. first, communications forum are held three times a semester, six times a year and if you would like to be informed of future events there is a sign-up sheet over there, put your name and e-mail and will promise that will only send you news about our events a year and we have
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pretty good ones. we had sarah battle earlier this year, john hodgman, last semester, these three great stuff planned for next semester already. also, tonight's forum is being filled by c-span so during the question part of the forum if you would go up to one of the microphones and also, hopefully state your name in your question another reason we ask you to state your name is because we then do a write up of all the forum afterward which you will be able to read a couple of days after the event on a website which is [inaudible] in the last announcement is that this event tonight is cosponsored by radius which is another group here at mit. i am thrilled to be able to introduce these three it is a different three than we
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initially thought would be here because just called me up a little past five because his daughter was puking as the father of gm's kids myself i said stay home and fortunately chris couch who writes a lot about technology is a brilliant journalist in their own right and has agreed to fill in as a moderator. let me introduce everyone, nor is the author of the new book know it all which will be a # tonight and i think moving forward. he and i have worked together a decade and half ago and i have known him ever since. he is a great guy and is a brilliant journalist and covered
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the influence of the internet on the larger culture for "the new york times" where he wrote the link by link column beginning in 2007. his first book the rise of silicon valley is an intellectual history of silicon valley and critically examines how its destructive culture and ideology belittles stability, empathy and democracy. it was published in october 2017 and available for purchase right here in addition to supporting an open discussion we also support both bookstores and authors so please, by all means, buy the book. it is a great book. chris and i both rented in london. to his left is sarah watson, sarah is a technology critic who writes and speaks about emerging issues and the intersection of technology society. his work her work has appeared in washington post, sleet in motherboard which is an affiliate with the client center for internet society at harvard
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university and author of the power [inaudible]. to his right and my left now is chris couch, chris is a science journalist who i had the absolute pleasure of working with for several years and she's the coordinator for the communications forum and her own work explores the intersection of technology and her bylines have appeared in mit coexist science friday and wired magazine and we have also for your convenience put all of your twitter handles on the board at sm watts and without further ado i will turn it over to --
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actually with further i do, in addition to his book we have a book that jeff cowrote that his head of mit media lab on sale here which is called whiplash which is also a great book. both of those are available immediately afterward. now without further. >> thank you. thank you all for being here. we are so excited about this panel and i feel like it addresses a lot of really important issues. i would encourage you to buy a book, it's a great book. first of all, i want to conduct this panel by talking about the central argument of the book and correct me if i am wrong here but is really the disruption and individualism the very endemic that silicon valley has a lot of ways eroded humanity -- is that it is a?
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>> yeah, i was thinking about the question at the premise of this get together like have they lost their humanity and the glib answer is that they have it but the deeper question is every person has humanity so what are we really talking about that has happened. i approach some of this from the computer science aspect and the things of people's machines and people's machines is one of the crucial mistakes or pass that we are on that is scary so that is denying that humanity of your fellow people when you think of them so individualistically as data points and in the instruction it's a well-known anecdote about google's first design director was asked to create and design for gmail and he suggested a color and instead of using the color he wanted they ab tested different 41 shades of blue and one to use
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the most one they choose and this issue to be a design director was an oxymoron to have a human vision for what they were doing when they were going to test it and they don't apologize that because basically they say the color, the shade of blue we pick is the most popular one that led to $200 million in additional revenue and it is that breakdown in the scene people as data points and they're not apologetic about it but at least it has bad outcomes. >> can you speak to what those outcomes are? for those who are not familiar with the intricacies of silicon valley, can you tell me about how does that play out? >> i would argue that they are taking this french philosophy and making it mainstream. what i mean by libertarianism is resisting regulation, the idea that we should regulate taxis or
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hotels or you can think of all the different companies that we should regulate, what children see on video, not tv, that we should regulate paper political ads so they live in america and should they just declare what they're doing so that is one part of the eye ideology that this pace for regulation and trust the government which i think is is in our society so that is one part and i think the extreme idea of free speech is another one and i know all these issues are complicated and will talk about whether we, too strong but i wrote a plac piecen the new yorker this week about an issue in stanford and whether even back in the 80s whether there should be limits on free speech there was a group that was telling sexist and racist jokes in stanford tried to limit that there was such a fierce pushback that it was reversed
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and to me having limits on free speech is vital to having a community that is cohesive and that's another dangerous aspect to that libertarian and some of it is done in good faith but it's having horrible consequences so i wrote this book for the 2016 election and i was thinking about it but what happened there bears out in these points because the fact that these big companies facebook comments that are so blasé about the fact that foreign company, foreign country could influence our election or that there should be disclose all of who is advertising and whether these powerful tools are targeting people should be used by anybody to stir up anger and resentment shows the disconnect and that they're not see themselves as custodians of this power they have in instead exploiting it for profit or maybe there is a utopian vision
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like mark zuckerberg wants to connect the world and it supersedes other concerns. that is the effect and i would add one thing because people asked me about the book what prompted you to do the book because it wasn't the election and you can look at me as a. because using gmail but i remember thinking i did the gmail reader e-mails and in order to place ads for it and my mom in the passed away from cancer in that time and i never mentioned the word cancer in an e-mail because i didn't want have you thought about radiation treatments or in that notion that someone would be a custodian of my information and they're giving it to be free would still feel like they have a right to try to commercialize it was because it crystallize a moment for me when i think back on it. >> a lot of work deals with
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technology criticism not just the technology itself but also the culture surrounding it and i'm wondering if from your perspective to you agree with the premise or how do you feel about the premise, i guess, of the culture of the technology world of having an impact on humanity and empathy and stability. >> i agree with the overall purpose and i think a lot of people have started to unpack the kind of implications of the way that technology is built but also the assumption and ideology that are acted out in the technology itself is obviously looking at the individuals who are leaving these companies coming up these designs and looking at their assumptions and ideology really do matter and i think the biggest thing for me is i like to think about this in terms of optimization. most silicon valley leaders and companies are designed around optimization which whether it's
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the design itself or getting you the information as fast as you can or connecting people as efficiently as possible or connecting you to all of the world material goods for amazon those are questions of efficiency and optimized for profit so those are taken for granted as the right terms of optimization and i think trying to unpacked those assumptions are is productive turning point to say what if spending more time on facebook wasn't the optimization model and what if it was a quality experience on facebook and what would that look like and how would that change the experience and how would that change the design of the platform also that change about what his role in our lives is. that is the crux of a lot of the questions i continue to ask about technology and society and i think the trick is using the
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terminology of the industry optimization and the way they are thinking about problems and problem-solving is a productive way of sharing language and trying to get at we haven't necessarily agreed to the terms of optimization but they're coming from it at a market and that's the natural way for these two balls but we as a society, we, can start to question whether those are the terms agreed to or not. >> one of the things that i thought was well done in the book and the book addresses how many of the issues that we associate with silicon valley now and with allergic technology world issues of privacy, issues of commercialization issues of users being assessed in ways that they may not agree to so that some of the companies that are major giants currently google being one that sticks out in my mind really started with
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an eagles that was entirely against all of those things. can you speak a little too how did we get here. >> i think the way sarah put that was spot on and i was looking at the airport she wrote and she classifies critics and i could see myself and i think that what she's talking about is practical ways of trying to get to a better place so in this book is looking at the history of trying to ask the bigger picture questions like think about the efficiency and i was almost gonna make it in the beginning of the book is this idea of the bible and this instruction that when you have a field you should give it one pass in harvesting and you shouldn't go back a second time and efficiently get every little food and clearly missed because there's an ecosystem of people traveling or poor people who
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live off the gleaning and that is a metaphor where here saying what the efficient thing is i have a farm and i need to get all the content out of it and that's what i do or you could say you're part of a society in the efficient thing is to let some kind of scraps be there for other people because they efficiently use it and it's using language in the picture there in the world they are trying to create. recently i was sent a tweet that mark sucker bird was pointed out that he cared so much about the election meddling that was going to the company was going to spend all his money to hire and that's why he mentioned an investment because so investment that they were prepared to lose money over it and the natural comment was your basically saying you make money from the current situation and that's how important it is built upon that one. again the efficiencies and the way they are set up our
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troubling. i don't really know these answers what history but was trying to figure out how we got here and that's doubly the question of trying to answer but the piece of the book is the computer science tab accounts for hacker mentality and the extreme ideological ideas about the speech in of diversity and hostility to outsiders and then i credit the private seeking and for me the google case was enlightening because when you go back and read the original papers that they wrote when they were developing this which was an incredible invention. the google search engine -- i think everyone agrees they were standing on the soldiers of others but they took this chaotic thing called the web and made it coparents. it's an amazing invention but they also explained as they were describing to me why it needed to be advertising free and in the actual academic world and
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needed to be a place where was transparent and there should be this black boxes and come to accept the idea that the algorithm are secret things that you want to know what they're doing and they are constantly tinkering with it in this mysterious way and they were arguing that it was bad for science and bad for trusting the system because we don't have scrutiny of it so they wrote this paper explaining all that and i feel the way the story goes is they basically are serious academic and the parents were academics and basically they ended up using so much bandwidth at stanford that they were told you have to start figure out how to pay for this. it's a fair question to say couldn't stanford has said this is a great invention and we will pay for it. we pay for it like a nuclear reactor and it's very important for our studying of our society
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and science to do this but they were told you better figure out a way to do this and they connected to stanford network with the investor so they actually were a separated though the story is told about a person who had been at stanford graduate wrote them a check for google said there is no google inc. he said there will be, take the check and a month later there was a google inc. they deposited that hundred thousand dollars check and the rest is history. maybe it is corny or something but maybe there's a corruption or i could say selling now but for facebook, as well where they really had some idealism and they were in on the power of computers but they were necessarily trying to become billionaires and that wasn't what was making them sick. you'll see other book people ine books like test results where they were trying to wait figure out money and i think somewhere led astray as my view anyway.
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>> you have written extensively about how the world has changed over time so can you explain how has that media involved? >> in the research i did for the center for digital journalism at columbia i think one of the things i'm trying to look at was coverage from that kind of early almost breathless segments about silicon valley moment, the .com boom and all of that energy that went into covering for the amazon era and google and facebook and other era and starting with the very business oriented coverage model or from a tech blogger model so that breathless coverage moving
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concerned with as the technology starts to intersect with a lot of things like politics and people in society those shift the narrative of what matters about technology and why this is changing our lives and affecting our lives. i think that shift happens in a couple different points in 2007 the iphone comes out and all of a sudden we have dramatically changed our day-to-day relationship with the computer in her pocket basically. but yet that was still in that gadget excitement phase and then we have a 2013 moment where which is the snowden moment.
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