DLD 2018 Main Takeaways: From Tech Colonialism to Values

I had the pleasure of having been invited for the 3rd time to attend the DLD Conference in Munich. It is one of the few conferences where the arts, politics, media, economy and culture get a chance to discuss, mingle, and are offered to sit on the same table to discuss relevant topics. The art panels, put together by Hans Ulrich Obrist (HUO), have been particularly strong in this year's edition with talks by Hito Steyerl, Anne Imhof, Nora Khan, Maja Hoffman, and Francis Kéré, just to name a few. As HUO said: "Every company should have an artist in its team" - it is truly a fascinating way to encounter the world and new ways of thinking.

Values

  • While values were one of the key points during DLD a lot has been talked about values without actually defining what values are and there was a lack to actually outline the connection between monetary value and ethics.
  • There can be no relationship without trust.
  • Steffi Czerny said something that I found so true and rare for our current time: "How to deal with your enemies? Invite them and have a conversation."
  • "If anything, foster curiosity and never lose your humor." Claudia Nemat - Board Member, Deutsche Telekom
  • “Dream big and be resilient. We all need to believe that the good things will always be more than the negative.” Francis Kéré, Architect
  • A really interesting question that connected several AI panels was if one can hardcode values into AI and if so, which values are universal or will we end up with national values?
  • The new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi did well in presenting his charming approach to the audience. I was rather surprised about his approach concerning values. In the new Uber norms one can read: "We’re also calling these cultural norms, rather than values, because we fully expect them to evolve as Uber continues to grow. Uber has always been a company that embraces change, and going forward we’ll approach our culture in the same way." He mentioned that one of their main norms is "to do the right thing, as everyone knows what to do" which, is not the approach of any revolutionary business ethics, and frankly, do we still have to demonstrate that people don't do necessarily the right thing by default???
  • "I think we might be setting our standards for businesses too high. I think business’s role is to uncover things that can give us a better standard of living - I don’t think we can rely on business for solving our other social issues." Andrew McAfee, MIT
  • After the DLD conference I came across this article in Wired on The dirty war over diversity inside google

Education

  • "I don't think we need more digital education. We need more human education. [...] We become addicted to measurement instead of long-term results." - Esther Dyson, Way to Wellville
  • Everyone agreed that our education system is not well adapted to the digital transformation.
  • We need to define digital ethics

Tech as Religion

  • "Technology has become an all consuming religion for many of us" - writer Nora N. Khan
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Tech Colonialism

This panel moderated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Hito Steyerl and Evgeny Morozov was very thought provoking.

  • The artist offered a direct critique of Facebook’s new policy to let their users decide whether sources are trusted or fake. “As a trained documentary filmmaker, I can tell you a credible source is not defined by popularity.” (Hito Steyerl)

  • The digital intermediation of everything is the title of an essay by Morozov looking at how the economics and power of big tech companies owning your data will play out.

  • “The more advanced the technology, the more likely people begin to discuss it in religious or spiritual terms” (Steyerl) A thought that she linked with a talk of Yuval Harari on "Techno-Religions and Silicon Prophets.

  • Logic of compassion and indifference: Services from Google and Facebook feel like a social good – so many people wouldn’t be able to afford the services of these companies if they wouldn't be free. But there is a limit of how much data they need to collect from their users (remember if it's free you are the product) if they no longer need the data from users, that benevolence would likely turn to indifference. What if advertising wasn’t the main revenue stream for these companies and they got their money from other services? What would happen to the services they provide? ((Evgeny Morozov)

  • Artificial Stupidity: Hito Steyeral has talked on several occasions about her distrust of relying on artificial intelligence as being smart without questioning on which ethics and values they operate. In a conversation with Kate Crawford on stupid AI and the value of comradeship she writes: "As far as I understand it, statistics have moved from constructing models and trying to test them using empirical data to just using the data and letting the patterns emerge somehow from the data. This is a methodology based on correlation. They keep repeating that correlation replaces causation. But correlation is entirely based on identifying surface patterns, right? The questions–why are they arising? why do they look the way they look?–are secondary now. If something just looks like something else, then it is with a certain probability identified as this “something else,” regardless of whether it is really the “something else” or not. Looking like something has become a sort of identity relation, and this is precisely how racism works. It doesn’t ask about the people in any other way than the way they look. It is a surface identification, and I’m really surprised how no one questions these correlationist models of extracting patterns on that basis. If we harken back to IBM’s Hollerith machines, they were used in facilitating deportations during the Holocaust. This is why I’m always extremely suspicious of any kind of precise ethnic identification."

  • Responsible use of data and AI: There needs to be oversight in this area to watch out for the unintended consequences of AI and automation. There will always be hidden biases in algorithms.

Technology & the Female Body

  • Ina Fried, chief technology correspondent for Axios, moderated a fantastic panel (which was unfortunately not as well attented as it should have) and discussed how technology and innovation bride the women’s health tech gap. Her discussion partners were Piraye Yurttas Beim (Celmatix), Tania Boler(Elvie), Ida Tin (Clue) and Martin Varsavsky (Prelude Fertility).
  • There are strong difficulties in fundraising for female products. Problems like fertility, menopause or miscarriage are stigmatized and lack visibility in the Tech world.
  • In Silicon Valley companies are paying for egg freezing. The message they are sending is that women should postpone having babies instead of building family friendly environments.
  • "We’re talking about women's health today. But every person on this planet was a woman for nine months. So women’s health is human health" - Piraye Yurttas Beim
  • "Many women do not talk about their own reproductive health. Actually only one out of five women in the US tell their partners when they have a miscarriage. That is why Celmatix has started the campaign “Say The F Word” to get people talking." - Piraye Yurttas Beim
  • Ina Fried did an amazing job to constantly reminding the panelists that woman are not just defined through their biological predisposition, opening the discussion to trans woman.

Media and Fake News

  • "We need privacy regulation, for sure. [And] there has to be a debate between quality journalism and branded content." Christopher Schläffer, VEON
  • "In my opinion, Facebook is a Media Company and has to take responsibility for its content." Paul-Bernhard Kallen, Hubert Burda Media
  • Elliot Schrage, the VP of facebook, mentioned in his talk that their "new challenge is to maximize the benefits of technology and minimize exploitation." 
  • Facebook has been under fire for its role in the propagation of fake news and propaganda. The company decided to let users decide which media is credible. Schrage defended this highly questionable decision as a better option than Facebook itself deciding or turning it over to a panel of experts "which "invites criticism who that body of experts is.”
  • Responding to criticism, Schrage acknowledged that the company has spent too much in recent years on building new features and not enough in protecting the existing ones from abuse. He specifically,  pointed to three areas where the company is trying to take steps to do better.
    • preventing and quickly removing hate speech
    • preventing foreign interference in domestic affairs, especially elections
    • making sure that people who use the site find it to be "time well spent."
  • The fantastic Kara Swisher got real with Schrage in the Q&A session:
  • One of my favorite panels was moderated by the tech journalist Kara Swisher with Miriam Meckel, Hilary Rosen and Megan Murp about the POTUS, how to deal with his presidency and the role of the media. "We cannot expect global organisations to manage society." (Hilary Rosen); "You are making lots of money by attention-grabbing my eyeballs, so stop pretending being best friend, Facebook! (Megan Murp); "Google and Facebook have sucked up all the advertising money [...] [which is threatening local quality journalism (Hilary Rosen); "We [as journalists] have to try to make a difference. Media usage is TV-centric, shifted to mobile and having a decreased attention span. So we have to continue telling our stories." (Megan Murp)

Responsibility

  • Christiana Figueres, from 2010 to 2016 Secretary General of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, was honored with the Aenne Burda Award for her over 23 year long engagement in environmental issues and for her role in the Paris Climate Agreement. In her optimistic and fierce speech Figueres states "I will address climate change no matter what other people want me to.“ Her advice: „Be a stubborn optimistic and we can fight climate change.“ And she leaves the stage with underlining the urgency of the matter: "We are running out of time.“
  • Rose McGowan used her voice to speak truth to power and has been awarded with the DLD Impact Award for her involvement in #metoo and being a Silence Breaker.

Identity

  • “Every identity you have today is given to you by someone else (your bank, social media, etc).” The alternative? A Decentralized self-sovereign identity which could be Blockchain-enabled.
  • As part of the new Sustainable Development Goals agreed to by more than 150 world leaders , one aim is to “provide legal identity to all, including birth registration, by 2030, which is an incredible possibilty for refugees. ( Read The Radical Plan For A Global Identity System For A World With Shifting Borders)
  • 1.1 Billion humans in the world have for a variety of reasons no identity.

The Good fight

  • As someone who works with the connection between image and narration, I was more than fascinated by the book project of Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt (and grateful to have been generously provided a copy of the book by Rick Smolan). Their book The good fight is an affirmation that history matters in order to understand our present times. It shows a compelling history of the courageous struggles against social injustice that so many Americans have confronted, and are confronting. A book that fills the often shallow understood concept of diversity with life.

How to fix the future

  • Andrew Keen was so kind to provide the participants with his new book How to fix the future. As I am such a podcast nerd, I'm sharing here the podcast episode where the author is a guest on Kara Swisher's Recode Decode.