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Mark Zuckerberg Will Hold Public Discussions on the Future of Tech
In what has become an annual January tradition, Mark Zuckerberg took to Facebook and posted a challenge that he’s set for himself this year, following previous challenges that have included eating only meat from animals that he kills himself, learning Mandarin and running 365 miles.
After a year in which Zuckerberg and Facebook saw their reputations hit all-time lows due to eroding trust over the company’s ineffectual approach to data security, it seems appropriate that Zuck’s challenge for 2019 is “to host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society — the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties.” Zuckerberg will “talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I’ll try different formats to keep it interesting,” and the discussions will be made public on either Facebook or Instagram.
This will be intellectually interesting, but there’s a personal challenge for me here too. I’m an engineer, and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they’d mostly speak for themselves. But given the importance of what we do, that doesn’t cut it anymore. So I’m going to put myself out there more than I’ve been comfortable with and engage more in some of these debates about the future, the tradeoffs we face, and where we want to go.
Of course, if all of this seems like nothing more than cynical damage control from Zuckerberg – a way of killing two birds with one stone and protecting his personal brand and Facebook’s corporate brand at the same time – you are not alone. New York magazine’s Max Read sees it, not as a way to justify tech’s role in society, but rather Facebook’s.
In some ways, this is less a “personal challenge” and more “professional damage control.” Some of the “big questions” Zuckerberg suggests the forums will revolve around seem to have less to do with “technology” in a general sense and more to do with a specific technology company based out of Menlo Park. “Do we want technology to keep giving more people a voice, or will traditional gatekeepers control what ideas can be expressed?” Well, gosh, when you put it like that! “In a world where many physical communities are weakening, what role can the internet play in strengthening our social fabric?” Seems like the kind of thing that might be helped by, I don’t know, a major technology company built on networks of personal relationships? It all has the air of the CEO of Philip Morris announcing that he’ll host a series of public discussions about the future of smoking in society — the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, the anxieties.
Zuckerberg has not yet indicated a date for the first discussion.