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System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot

American Enterprise Institute

June 22, 2023

Event Summary

On June 22, AEI’s Brent Orrell and Shane Tews were joined by Rob Reich of the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and Jeremy M. Weinstein of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies to discuss System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot (Harper Academic, 2021), a book Mr. Reich and Mr. Weinstein coauthored with their fellow Stanford professor Mehran Sahami.

The panelists spoke about the challenges that Big Tech in the 21st century—particularly artificial intelligence—poses to democratic society. They discussed the dangers of the optimizing and scaling mindset that competition in technology encourages; the thorny trade-offs among the values of privacy, safety, agency, and productivity; the rise of misinformation and disinformation; and issues of power concentration and regulatory capture in the technology sector.

Acknowledging the immense difficulty of regulating Big Tech and responding to technological change, the panelists expressed optimism about our ability to use technology for humanity’s benefit and offered concrete steps we can take, such as promoting norms of risk assessment and accountability in science and technology.

—David Veldran and Hunter Dixon

Event Description

System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot (Harper Academic, 2021) posits that Big Tech’s focus on optimization is reinforcing discrimination, eroding privacy, displacing workers, and polluting the information we get. This mindset operates in tension with values a democratic society might choose to prioritize. Well-intentioned optimizers fail to measure all that is meaningful and may end up imposing their values on the rest of us at scale.

Armed with an understanding of how technologists think and exercise their power, the three authors (all Stanford professors) reveal how they think the power of technology and technology companies can better serve all of society.