People's perception of Big Tech has shifted in the past years. Maybe it is time to reach out and figure out how this power can be used for the good of us all? Welcome back to another blog post, this time with a lucky Twitter find I stumbled across last week. I have been wondering for some time now whether there is a disconnect between developers and users or not. And if so, how do you recognize it, and how can it be explained?
In his article titled Not All Tech Problems Are Engineering Problems, David Ryan Polgar sets out to clarify the misconception of the experienced "techlash" as a problem of faulty products rather than power. His words complemented what I had previously tried to unravel from the side of the general public.
"People like to think that this "techlash" is about the general public being angry with the technology itself. This view suggests that the problem can be solved by simply improving the quality of the industry's products. That if algorithms are biased, we need to remove that bias. And that if facial recognition systems are faulty and riddled with errors, we just need to improve their accuracy. Thus, many people in the industry define the problem as an engineering challenge to be solved. Upgrade the tech, alleviate the angst".
There is a problem with that. It is not the algorithm's faultiness that makes people angry, but the fact that it has so much power, to begin with. So how can we go about this? Is there a need to shift the perception and attitude of tech leaders?
The Power Imbalance Between Innovators and Those Affected by Their Work
Polgar points out that a social network has a lot of power in what we see and interact with. Therefore, he describes the modern social network as a network that "has become less of a tool that an individual uses and more like the curator of that person's reality." Another shared fear is that with this power comes a different level of power, especially approaching the next presidential election. Social networks play a massive role in controlling misinformation, disinformation, and potential calls for violence.
If all tech is human, then we have to shift the way we think about it. The question to developers has to be: How can you alleviate any massive power imbalances between your product and its users?
Rethinking the Relationship Between Users and Developers
As Polgar correctly states, "by thinking about technology as a relationship between a product or platform and its users, we are incorrectly framing the scenario as a one-way exchange."
Especially today, civil society can no longer afford to exclude sections of the population from these discussions. As with every upheaval, it requires the courage to ask questions, the ability to answer these questions in a goal-oriented manner, and the mutual willingness to reach a compromise that will serve the future.
As always, stay curious! For this blog post, I have used this article by David Ryan Polgar.