And we think about information technology here in Silicon Valley, we have the great companies, Hewlett Packard, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Nvidia many others. We also have biotechnology increasingly. The goals of these technologists are of course varied, just like everything else, but include disrupting old ways of doing things and bringing in new ways.
Changing the world. There were financial incentives and there were personal incentives based on the passion and the vision of the technologists. They may not be trained however to think about the implications of their new technologies on the world in a policy sense or in an ethic sense. Some engage actively with these challenges once it becomes obvious to them that there are these challenges.
But these questions are particularly pertinent today. I think you can think of many things on the cover of the newspaper and on TV every day, especially with the rapid advances in AI and machine learning and its rapid deployment in wide areas. And he has worked actively on issues where policy and technology intersect. He has helped form networks of universities interested in Public Interest technology. And separately has helped create centers focusing on global poverty development and with similar aims.
Jeremy, you have talked about the increasing need for civic minded technologists. What does a civic minded technologist look like?
And what I mean is, is this someone who was a technologist but is drawn to the policy implications of technology and perhaps their technology or do you think that these can be technologists who remain in the fray of technology development but also have on top of that fray an understanding of the policy, ethical, Civic implications of their work.
So the civic minded technologists one part of that equation is a set of technologists who are developing competencies as engineers, as data scientists, as bio-engineers but who are really interested substantively in using the advances of technology to achieve public aims. Aims related to social problems that are shared in society. And I think the question of how we prepare people to use their skills as technologists in those domains by balancing not only the technical competencies that they develop but also the domain knowledge that they need, about social domains, about institutions, about communities, about human behavior.
We need to find a way to pair those things. Jeremy Weinstein: I can imagine. The design choices for technology, the questions of how technology interacts with human behavior and even to begin to get their heads around how policies might play a role in mitigating some of the potential harmful effects of technology. Which is that we need to put ourselves in a position where those who are actually responsible for making the choices about how we govern technology know something about technology. Russ Altman: So I think this is on that note.
I had the pleasure of looking at your CV and in the distant past, you were — are — an expert in civil wars, political violence, political economy of development, political change. What was it that brought to your attention this urgent need for this civic minded technologist, what set of experiences. Jeremy Weinstein: Well you could say I have a short attention span but I think really what happened for me is two things in particular. The first is during the second term of the Obama administration.
And that gave me a seat because the ambassador to the United Nations is a member of the cabinet. Not only in the most pressing foreign policy debates of our time, but also a whole number of situations where technology was playing some important role in revealing to me just the enormous chasm that existed between those people who had responsibility for particular policy domains, in this case foreign policy, and those who actually knew something about technology.
Perhaps the best example of this was the debate that we had about encryption. The question in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks about whether —. Jeremy Weinstein: Whether the government should be in a position to break into the Apple iPhone in order to figure out whether the attackers in San Bernardino were connected to others in society in the area who might also be in a position to undertake or commit violence.
The national security folks around the table said of course the government should be in a position to break into the iPhone. That in some sense the President United States his most important job is to protect the safety and security of Americans. The set of technologists that we had in government many of whom sat in the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the National Economic Council, said what are you talking about? Privacy is what we prize. End-to-end encryption is the pathway to the future. I think that was a fundamentally sort of revealing debate about the entirely different world views that existed on the part of policymakers who were responsible for international relations and foreign policy and our technologists.
We saw the same thing play out in cyber warfare when the attack was made against Sony. I remember this room when we came in for this conversation we had to decide how are we going to respond to the Sony Cyber attack.
Jeremy Weinstein: Technology in the public interest
You had a set of decision-makers around the table, none of us knew anything about technology. What it meant is when I came back to Stanford I said at this moment of tremendous societal change in relationship to technology, what am I uniquely positioned to do sitting at this university. This is The Future Of Everything. Now those two examples are great because I see them as having two different problems.
I think in the iPhone case it sounds like everybody was perfectly clear about their opinion but perhaps where they were coming from in terms of their disciplinary training, gave them a very different opinion about what the right way to go was. Where in the in the second case, it sounds like there might have been a vocabulary problem in bringing in an easy-to-understand if it is even an easily understandable.
Trying to get the policymakers to understand the technical nuance required to make appropriate and subtly nuanced decisions. So is that a fair characterization? Jeremy Weinstein: So, one is developing a shared language and a shared understanding about what technologies represent.
That just reflects some basic ignorance on the part of our policy makers about what these platforms are. About what these technologies represent and how they operate. We need to build a language for talking in both directions. Technology cannot avoid the conversation with policy makers. Policy makers who are elected by the citizenry of the United States, of other countries and will have to make these choices about whether end-to-end encryption is the way of the future or whether decisions in the criminal justice system should be made via algorithms or whether it should be the case that we treat internet platforms as platforms that are not responsible for content or as publishers that are fundamentally liable for the information that they make available to citizens.
Those are going to be decisions that policy makers have to make. You have educational challenge here which: Is it harder to teach a policy person technology or a technology person policy? How do you even think about that? So how do you distract a young technologist appropriately to get them at least conversant in these other kinds of cultural concepts without torpedoing their technical passion and technical focus.
Jeremy Weinstein: So the first thing you do is you enlist incredible allies.
And so the first ally was a political philosopher on campus Rob Reich, who was thinking about these issues from the perspective of ethics and technology. I knew that we needed to balance the social science perspective and policy perspective that I could bring to the table with a philosopher. So we had to enlist our most important ally. And that was Mehran Sahami. Jeremy Weinstein: And so our students all had their initial exposure to computer science through Mehran.
When we ask the question of whether —. Jeremy Weinstein: Exactly, they have avoided these things. There are only the answers that we can come up with as a society, when we enumerate what it is that we value.
But you also asked me about what is it like to teach policy makers and social science technologists, you have to ask Mehran that question. But of course when we taught this first course, it just finished this winter quarter, we had about students. We attracted a relatively small number of social scientists and humanities folks from around campus, in part because we made the prerequisite basic competence in computer science.
Because we mixed in the core in the context of the course a set of technical assignments. For example, having students audit an algorithm for bias. Also put them in a position where they observe how the decisions that are made in ranking algorithms, for example, on our internet platforms, create filter bubbles and echo chambers that have magnified effects on society what information people hear what diversity of sources.
COMPASS Team – COMPASS
The social scientists and humanities folks in the room, loves the philosophy paper. They love the policy memo. The technical assignments scared them. Whereas our CS students came across a policy memo or a philosophy paper and asked the question what is a philosophy paper? What is a policy memo, what is the structure of argumentation in a policy memo. And so really it was this communication across two different cultures and it required this integrated teaching approach of faculty from different disciplines. I think our challenge in part in the public debate is that we have tech enthusiasts who emerge from technology who say that technology is gonna revolutionize everything.
But all of our challenge is actually not to take either of those polar views but to make a set of choices that are gonna help us maximize the benefits and mitigate the harms. Because that means there is a upcoming generation of people who are going to be dually comfortable with both of these areas. So picking up your headlines on Twitter and not realize that we are in a different moment for technology. And we may have a set of students who choose a more narrow education where they position themselves as a pure engineer, a pure programmer.
So can you tell us about the goals of that Center, and what are the priorities currently? One is a Center on Global Poverty and Development because as you said, historically my work where I started as a political scientist, was as a scholar of African political economy.
Motivated by understanding the challenges of poverty and inequality and violence in developing countries. And that took me in the early part of my career to working on issues of political violence and political change. Looking at ethnic politics and understanding how ethnic identities shaped the policy-making process and the developmental trajectory of countries. Because one of the central issues that I grappled with as deputy UN Ambassador was the migration crisis of and Statistics is actually central to most of the work that we do. And so some of the advances that I see in data science are really powerful for helping us think about development questions.
And let me just give you two short examples. How do we get a beat on these really important underlying trends in the absence of investing extraordinary amounts of money and what we do now which are many month long household surveys that visit people and gather this information? Well, advances in machine learning make it possible for us to use training datasets that tell us what the level of poverty is in particular villages or the quality of infrastructure.
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