Criticism of new technologies tends to have a conspiratorial air that prevents certain voices from standing up to giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft. This has not been the case at the The World Economic Forum held in the Swiss city of Davos, where powerful executives and political leaders have accused tech giants of not acting responsibly in favor of society.
From the “fake news” phenomenon to the the “WannaCry” ransomware attacks of 2017, influential figures such as finance magnate George Soros have riled against tech companies for their mishandling of digital information. Soros also voiced its concerns over the development of artificial intelligence, which he feels focuses too much on replacing human workers.
The negative opinions on tech companies have prompted tech leaders to speak up at Davos and offer mea culpa statements and promises that they will do better in the future. They are ready to accept greater taxation, abide by new rules and become more responsible for their actions. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that his company wants to serve billions of users every day, a desire that carries a great responsibility, and which also requires listening to criticism.
Sheryl Sandberg, operations director at Facebook, admitted that there is still much that her company needs to do with regard to spreading of propaganda and misinformation, but that software engineers have already taken the first steps to fix the system: an algorithm change that will try to provide users with quality information from the parties that they should really be paying attention to, meaning their friends and relatives. In recent years, Facebook has turned into a news publishing platform with social media features, and this transformation has made the network vulnerable to propaganda.
Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of the controversial tech firm known as Uber, also spoke in a conciliatory tone. Uber has promised to comply with government regulations in all countries, and it also promised to provide workers with competitive pay and benefits whenever possible.
Not long after the Davos summit started, the CEO of Salesforce stated a strong opinion against social media. Marc Benioff believes that platforms such as Facebook know how to manipulate feedback loops for the purpose of enticing users to keep returning to their news feeds, something that could easily turn into an addictive behavior. Benioff compared social media to the tobacco industry; moreover, he also said that the technology sector should be subject to regulation just like the financial, health, and food service sectors.