Obama Brought Silicon Valley to Washington

Jenna Wortham at The New York Times: “…“Fixing” problems with technology often just creates more problems, largely because technology is never developed in a neutral way: It embodies the values and biases of the people who create it. Crime-predicting software, celebrated when it was introduced in police departments around the country, turned out to reinforce discriminatory policing. Facebook was recently accused of suppressing conservative news from its trending topics. (The company denied a bias, but announced plans to train employees to neutralize political, racial, gender and age biases that could influence what it shows its user base.) Several studies have found that Airbnb has worsened the housing crises in some cities where it operates. In January, a report from the World Bank declared that tech companies were widening income inequality and wealth disparities, not improving them….

None of this was mentioned at South by South Lawn. Instead, speakers heralded the power of the tech community. John Lewis, the congressman and civil rights leader, gave a rousing talk that implored listeners to “get in trouble. Good trouble. Get in the way and make some noise.” Clay Dumas, chief of staff for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House, told me in an email that the event could be considered part of a legacy to inspire social change and activism through technology. “In his final months in office,” he wrote, “President Obama wants to empower the generation of people that helped launch his candidacy and whose efforts carried him into office.”

…But a few days later, during a speech at Carnegie Mellon, Obama seemed to reckon with his feelings about the potential — and limits — of the tech world. The White House can’t be as freewheeling as a start-up, he said, because “by definition, democracy is messy. And part of government’s job is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.” But he added that he didn’t want people to become “discouraged and say, ‘I’m just not going to deal with government.’ ” Obama was the first American president to see technology as an engine to improve lives and accelerate society more quickly than any government body could. That lesson was apparent on the lawn. While I still don’t believe that technology is a panacea for society’s problems, I will always appreciate the first president who tried to bring what’s best about Silicon Valley to Washington, even if some of the bad came with it….(More)”