Markkula Center for Applied Ethics - Better Choices

Year in Review

landscape at dusk

landscape at dusk

On Silicon Valley and bubbles

Irina Raicu

Irina Raicu is the director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.  Views are her own.

Since it’s the season for “Year in Review” pieces, I decided to take a look at this year’s blog posts. Appropriately, 2017 is book-ended by pieces on AI and ethics. The first post for the year, from January 6, titled “Adding ‘E’ to ‘AI,’” details some of the Center’s efforts in that field, and asks, “how do we reach for eudaimonia in ‘the algorithmic age’”? In November, I was writing (again) about academics addressing the impact of AI on society. In between those posts, the Center hosted a panel discussion on AI ethics and joined the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society: There’s a post about that, too.

Other blog posts addressed online privacy; cybersecurity (it’s been a year of massive data breaches); social media’s role in elections and governance; calls for a tech code of ethics; internet-connected toys; and more.

On a related note, 2017 has also been a year of media headlines like “Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend” (NY Times) and “The Honeymoon Is Over in Silicon Valley” (C/net). Even in Wired magazine, a recent piece titled “The Other Tech Bubble” argues that outside the Silicon Valley bubble

things are different. We’re not egging on startups that willingly flout regulations. We’re wary of artificial intelligence and its potential to eliminate jobs. We’re dubious of tech leaders’ promises to make their products safe for their kids to use. We are all sick of the jokes that no longer feel funny: lines about the lack of women in tech, about obscenely rich 20-somethings, about awkward coders with bad people skills, about “hustling” and growth at any cost.

Here’s the thing, though: plenty of people in Silicon Valley are also wary, dubious, and sick of these things. The perception bubble apparently keeps outsiders, too, from seeing Silicon Valley in its full complexity. So I thought I’d wrap up 2017 by linking to a piece that appeared back in February in the San Francisco Chronicle, titled “My Valentine to Silicon Valley.” In it, I wrote, “You’d be surprised how many Silicon Valley folks never talk about ‘disruption’ or ‘monetization’ or ‘sweat equity.’ What might look like a ‘coastal elite’ bubble or a tech bubble from afar looks quite different close up.”

I realize that “Silicon Valley” is being used, in many cases, as shorthand for “tech industry,” but it’s a lot more than that. So Happy Holidays, from Silicon Valley—and may 2018 be a year in which we all see a bit more past the bubbles.

Photo by Gordon, cropped, used under a Creative Commons license

Dec 21, 2017

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