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Morality and the Idea of Progress in Silicon Valley


Stashed in: Silicon Valley!, Ethics, Values, Morals, Consequences, Founders, Awesome, Silicon Valley, Values, Ethics

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Exceptionally thought-provoking essay about the tendency of Silicon Valley to justify all human costs in terms of "the price of progress" as an end run around having to think hard about moral values. I would suggest that it's pretty useless to think that the makers of technologies would also be able to police themselves in any deep sense -- that would require them to be completely different human beings than they are! -- therefore I feel that only outside forces can ultimately control technology.

The second article is fascinating for showcasing how much Silicon Valley defends its ways. 

Industry thought leaders have increasingly embraced the "tweetstorm"--a sort of Twitter soundbite blitzkrieg--as a favorite way of defusing criticism. The Platonic tech insider tweetstorm is condescending, sanctimonious, and aphoristic, with a hint of magical thinking ("X is probably untrue because I don't want it to be true"), a healthy serving of self-righteous outrage, and just a dollop of clubby ass-kisserey. When the Wall Street Journal published a story questioning the science behind startup darling Theranos, for example, VC Josh Elman took to Twitter with a variation on a number of familiar themes:

"I would bet that the real Theranos story is a ton of people working really hard to change medical tests and are close to something amazing" "The question is only whether they fully achieve that amazing potential and can deliver to the market or if they just remain close." "The accusations of fraud, impropriety are probably nonsense. Instead, People working very hard to try and will something new in reality."

Former Path CEO Dave Morin pretty much exactly echoes this sentiment in the comments of a story about Theranos on The Information:

"Taking a step back, this entire situation smells of a smear campaign by the incumbents in "big health." Isn't it time as Millenials that we try to use the Internet to unearth deeper facts and see through these traditional smear campaigns and defend our generations desire to improve the status quo? Or do we just let business as usual continue?"

Never mind that Elman and Morin, by their own admission, have little knowledge of the science being called into question, no inside information on the story's specifics, and offer zero evidence to support the aspersions they cast on critics. Skeptical journalists who question the narrative simply couldn't possibly be anything but mean-spirited jerks trying to drum up attention by demeaning the hard work of altruistic Silicon Valley innovators. As Eugeny Morozov recently said...

The first article is fascinating for calling out founders for not thinking through the consequences of what we build. 

Everyone can, at a minimum, ask whether they are doing more harm than good. The trouble in Silicon Valley is that many talented, highly educated young people seem relatively unconcerned with the potential for harm. To be more aware of not harming people, much less helping them, we need to cultivate moral intuitions by discussing the consequences of our work for specific people.

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