Virtual Event: Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy M. Weinstein
Where Big Tech Went Wrong
and How to Reboot It
December 2, 2021
12:00 PM ET
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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration
Harvard Book Store's virtual event series and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics welcome Stanford University professors ROB REICH, MEHRAN SAHAMI, and JEREMY M. WEINSTEIN for a discussion of their co-authored book, System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How to Reboot It.
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While payment is not required, we are suggesting a $5 contribution to support this author series, our staff, and the future of Harvard Book Store—a locally owned, independently run Cambridge institution. In addition, by purchasing a copy of System Error on harvard.com, you support indie bookselling and the writing community during this difficult time.
About System Error
In no more than the blink of an eye, a naïve optimism about technology’s liberating potential has given way to a dystopian obsession with biased algorithms, surveillance capitalism, and job-displacing robots. Yet too few of us see any alternative to accepting the onward march of technology. We have simply accepted a technological future designed for us by technologists, the venture capitalists who fund them, and the politicians who give them free rein.
It doesn’t need to be this way.
System Error exposes the root of our current predicament: how big tech’s relentless focus on optimization is driving a future that reinforces discrimination, erodes privacy, displaces workers, and pollutes the information we get. This optimization mindset substitutes what companies care about for the values that we as a democratic society might choose to prioritize. Well-intentioned optimizers fail to measure all that is meaningful and, when their creative disruptions achieve great scale, they impose their values upon the rest of us.
Armed with an understanding of how technologists think and exercise their power, three Stanford professors—a philosopher working at the intersection of tech and ethics, a political scientist who served under Obama, and the director of the undergraduate Computer Science program at Stanford (also an early Google engineer)—reveal how we can hold that power to account.
Troubled by the values that permeate the university’s student body and its culture, they worked together to chart a new path forward, creating a popular course to transform how tomorrow’s technologists approach their profession. Now, as the dominance of big tech becomes an explosive societal conundrum, they share their provocative insights and concrete solutions to help everyone understand what is happening, what is at stake, and what we can do to control technology instead of letting it control us.
Praise for System Error
"Enough with the breathless dreams of digital utopias and poisonous polemics about technological dystopias! In System Error, we finally have a book about the digital revolution that is serious rather than sensationalistic. Read this if you want to understand how to shape our technological future and reinvigorate democracy along the way." —Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix
“System Error offers a powerful account of how our lives, our politics, and our values have been reshaped by technology in ways that we are just starting to comprehend. Full of stories and insights, this remarkable book charts a path forward for creating a healthy digital future.” —Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation
"Albert Einstein once lamented that 'our technology has exceeded our humanity.' That danger is ever more pressing as powerful artificial intelligence technologies are transforming society at a pace never seen before. From the heart of Silicon Valley comes a profoundly important book that examines the ethical and social impact of the digital technologies and offers a more human-centered framework. This is a must-read for every student, engineer, businessperson, policymaker, or anyone who cares about our society’s collective future." —Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Professor Computer Science, Co-Director of Stanford's Institute for Human-Centered AI, and member of the National Academies of Engineering and Medicine
The “Ethics in Your World” series, presented with Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, features leading thinkers taking on tough problems that matter to us all. Learn more about the Safra Center at ethics.harvard.edu.
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