> 
> http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/silicon-valley-has-an-empathy-vacuum
>  
> <http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/silicon-valley-has-an-empathy-vacuum>
> 
> Silicon Valley Has an Empathy Vacuum
> Om Malik <http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/om-malik>•November 28, 2016
>   
> <http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Malik-SiliconValleyHasanEmpathyVacuum2-1200.jpg>
> Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or 
> follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for 
> those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry.   Photograph 
> by Scott Eells / Bloomberg / Getty
>  <>Silicon Valley seems to have lost a bit of its verve since the 
> Presidential election. The streets of San Francisco—spiritually part of the 
> Valley—feel less crowded. Coffee-shop conversations are hushed. Everything 
> feels a little muted, an eerie quiet broken by chants of protesters. It even 
> seems as if there are more parking spots. Technology leaders, their 
> employees, and those who make up the entire technology ecosystem seem to have 
> been shaken up and shocked by the election of Donald Trump.
> 
> One conversation has centered on a rather simplistic narrative of Trump as an 
> enemy of Silicon Valley; this goes along with a self-flagellating regret that 
> the technology industry didn’t do enough to get Hillary Clinton into the 
> White House. Others have decided that the real villains are Silicon Valley 
> giants, especially Twitter, Facebook, and Google, for spreading fake news 
> stories that vilified Clinton and helped elect an unpopular President.
> 
> These charges don’t come as a surprise to me. Silicon Valley’s biggest 
> failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, 
> but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed 
> by its technological wizardry. Two years ago, on my blog, I wrote 
> <http://om.co/2014/07/08/with-big-data-comes-big-responsibility/>, “It is 
> important for us to talk about the societal impact of what Google is doing or 
> what Facebook can do with all the data. If it can influence emotions (for 
> increased engagements), can it compromise the political process?”
> 
> Perhaps it is time for those of us who populate the technology sphere to ask 
> ourselves some really hard questions. Let’s start with this: Why did so many 
> people vote for Donald Trump? Glenn Greenwald, the firebrand investigative 
> journalist writing 
> <https://theintercept.com/2016/11/09/democrats-trump-and-the-ongoing-dangerous-refusal-to-learn-the-lesson-of-brexit/>
>  for The Intercept, and the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore 
> <http://michaelmoore.com/trumpwillwin/> have listed many reasons Clinton 
> lost. Like Brexit, the election of Donald Trump has focussed attention on the 
> sense that globalization has eroded the real prospects and hopes of the 
> working class in this country. Globalization is a proxy for 
> technology-powered capitalism, which tends to reward fewer and fewer members 
> of society.
> 
> My hope is that we in the technology industry will look up from our 
> smartphones and try to understand the impact of whiplashing change on a 
> generation of our fellow-citizens who feel hopeless and left behind. Instead, 
> I read the comments of Balaji Srinivasan, the C.E.O. of the San 
> Francisco-based Bitcoin startup 21 Inc 
> <https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/21e6>., telling the Wall Street 
> Journal columnist Christopher Mims 
> <http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-populism-and-silicon-valley-on-a-collision-course-1478814305>
>  that he feels more connected to people in his “Stanford network” around the 
> globe than to those in California’s Central Valley: “There will be a 
> recognition that if we don’t have control of the nation state, we should 
> reduce the nation state’s power over us.”
> 
> It’s hard to think about the human consequences of technology as a founder of 
> a startup racing to prove itself or as a chief executive who is worried about 
> achieving the incessant growth that keeps investors happy. Against the 
> immediate numerical pressures of increasing users and sales, and the 
> corporate pressures of hiring the right (but not too expensive) employees to 
> execute your vision, the displacement of people you don’t know can get lost.
> 
> However, when you are a data-driven oligarchy like Facebook, Google, Amazon, 
> or Uber, you can’t really wash your hands of the impact of your algorithms 
> and your ability to shape popular sentiment in our society. We are not just 
> talking about the ability to influence voters with fake news. If you are 
> Amazon, you have to acknowledge that you are slowly corroding the retail 
> sector, which employs many people in this country. If you are Airbnb, no 
> matter how well-meaning your focus on delighting travellers, you are also 
> going to affect hotel-industry employment.
> 
> Otto, a Bay Area startup that was recently acquired by Uber, wants to 
> automate trucking—and recently wrapped up 
> <https://www.wired.com/2016/10/ubers-self-driving-truck-makes-first-delivery-50000-beers/>
>  a hundred-and-twenty-mile driverless delivery of fifty thousand cans of beer 
> between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. From a technological standpoint it 
> was a jaw-dropping achievement, accompanied by predictions of improved 
> highway safety. From the point of view of a truck driver with a mortgage and 
> a kid in college, it was a devastating “oh, shit” moment. That one technical 
> breakthrough puts nearly two million long-haul trucking jobs at risk. Truck 
> driving is one of the few decent-paying jobs that doesn’t require a college 
> diploma. Eliminating the need for truck drivers doesn’t just affect those 
> millions of drivers; it has a ripple effect on ancillary services like gas 
> stations, motels, and retail outlets; an entire economic ecosystem could 
> break down.
> 
> Whether self-driving cars and trucks, drones, privatization of civic services 
> like transportation, or dynamic pricing, all these developments embrace 
> automation and efficiency, and abhor friction and waste. As Erik 
> Brynjolfsson, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, told MIT 
> Technology Review 
> <https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/?utm_campaign=socialflow&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post>,
>  “Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet 
> at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. 
> People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our 
> skills and organizations aren’t keeping up.” It is, he said, “the great 
> paradox of our era.”
> 
>  <>We talk about the filter bubbles on social networks—those algorithms that 
> keep us connected to the people we feel comfortable with and the world we 
> want to see—and their negative impacts, but real-world filter bubbles, like 
> the one in Silicon Valley, are perhaps more problematic. People become 
> numbers, algorithms become the rules, and reality becomes what the data says. 
> Facebook as a company makes these bubble blunders again and again. Its 
> response to the ruckus over fake news is a perfect illustration of the 
> missing empathy gene in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg, one of the smartest 
> and brightest founders and chief executives of the post-Internet era, 
> initially took a stance that Facebook can’t really play arbiter of what is 
> real and what is fake news. It took a whole week for the company to 
> acknowledge that it can build better tools that help fight the scourge of 
> fake news and yet stay neutral.
> 
> It isn’t the first time Facebook has shied away from the reality that it can 
> influence the lives of the billion and a half people connected to it. A 
> perfect example came two years ago, when Facebook, in its “Your Year in 
> Review” feed, published the photo of the dead daughter of a user named Eric 
> Meyer, prompting Meyer to write 
> <http://om.co/2014/12/26/empathy-is-not-a-corporate-slogan/>, “Algorithms are 
> essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run 
> them, no more thought occurs.”
> 
> It seems possible to model the eventuality of a dead child’s photo showing up 
> on the feed, but the designers didn’t consider it, perhaps because those who 
> write these algorithms have not experienced such trauma, or perhaps they just 
> weren’t talking about the human feelings in their product meetings—a 
> particularly likely possibility when a company is focussed on engagement and 
> growth. The lack of empathy in technology design doesn’t exist because the 
> people who write algorithms are heartless but perhaps because they lack the 
> texture of reality outside the technology bubble. Facebook’s blunders are a 
> reminder that it is time for the company to think not just about 
> fractional-attention addiction and growth but also to remember that the 
> growth affects real people, for good and bad.
> 
> It is not just Facebook. It is time for our industry to pause and take a 
> moment to think: as technology finds its way into our daily existence in new 
> and previously unimagined ways, we need to learn about those who are 
> threatened by it. Empathy is not a buzzword but something to be practiced. 
> Let’s start by not raging on our Facebook feeds but, instead, taking a trip 
> to parts of America where five-dollar lattes and freshly pressed juices are 
> not perks but a reminder of haves and have-nots. Otherwise, come 2020, 
> Silicon Valley will have become an even bigger villain in the popular 
> imagination, much like its East Coast counterpart, Wall Street.

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