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Attitudes towards Silicon Valley are changing, with an angry sea of voices raging at their tone deaf behaviour and seeming inability to understand or tame the epidemic of fake news. Now is not the time to turn our backs on tech, argues Matt.

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iTunes Episode Link: Trust In Tech

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Before we start today's show and get to the Mattsplaining, there’s something I need to clear up. Last week we talked about Matt’s Magic Diet.

I'm pleased to say that I've been following the diet for the week and the results have been astonishing. One of the things Matt pointed out was that following a monotonous diet is a great way to show the effect that specific foods are having on your body. As Matt suggested, I increased my exercise regime to 2 hours a day and I believed with my whole heart that I would get thinner. 

In just seven days and with 14 hours of extreme running and countless hours of meditation I managed to put on 5 kg. Would you like to tell me what the hell is going on?

•    As I said last week my magic diet is all about belief.

•    if you followed the diet to the letter and ate nothing but the magic diet suspension, and exercised extremely hard then all I can say is that you just didn't believe hard enough.

•    What we’ve discovered isn't a weakness of the diet, it’s a weakness in yourself.

•    This diet is a journey of discovery, the physical exercise is part of that journey, you are exercising the self not trying to beat the calories.

•    The fact that you put on weight suggests that you actually need further assistance.

•    Rather than the standard magic diet program, it sounds like you need a platinum program where you have daily contact with one of Kulturpop’s highly trained online life coaches.

•    Calls cost five US dollars per 30s block, so it's very reasonable and affordable.

•    In less than six months, I can guarantee that you will either become a more complete person or you will discover that the inner you thinks you deserve to be diabetic.


That's not going to happen. You are not getting your hands on any more of my money. we'll talk about this off-air. This is a very strange day for you to choose this as your topic: Trust in technology and technology makers.

•    I don't think it's a strange topic at all. You're the one who has issues, not me.

•    But I think we can safely say that that the technology industry has issues too.

•    Since the start of this year we've seen a lot more pressure being brought to bear on the companies and the visionaries that we had been trusting the future of our society to.

•    Even on this show, we've had plenty to say about the social responsibility of technology companies and putting them under the microscope to determine whether or not we feel they are meeting those responsibilities.

•    It's true to say that there are plenty of issues when it comes to technology and the way it being implemented, also about the legal and legislative frameworks in which those companies operate.

•    And it's right and good that the media and consumers are putting these companies to the test in a variety of ways. Because we want to interact with companies that are fit for purpose and at the same time to serve notice to those companies that we don't think are performing correctly to either improve or get out of our way.


Has the balance of trust shifted?

•    Let's break it down into a few areas.

•    We've got the social media companies which have come in for sustained attack over the last year or so.

•    We've got the perception of Silicon Valley being elitist and out of touch with ordinary people, 

o    And as a result the companies and the products are reflective of the needs and attitudes of this elite rather than the wider public.

•    We have a politicised media which seems to be making war on the tech companies to further political aims on both the left and the right.

•    At the same time, we have so much exciting and genuinely ground-breaking innovation which could massively improve our lives.


Let’s tackle the social media angle first. I think most people are aware of the fake news epidemic and the rather deaf ear with which it was treated.

•    Totally. I'm not going to spend masses of time on this because we've covered it and covered it over the last few months.

•    If you have been hiking through the jungle for the last year and haven't had access to any kind of global information in that time, here's a newsflash for you; the rather lax approach of the technology companies in terms of vetting advertisers and ordinary users of the sites seems to have led to a situation where a relatively small number of political actors were able to wield enormous influence on the last round of presidential elections in the United States.

•    What is most notable about these actions is encapsulated in the indictment this week by the FBI of 13 Russian citizens relating to what is known as a troll farm, a place where it has been alleged that people would pose as US citizens and set up Facebook groups and actual real-world events promoting causes as disparate as Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter.

•    I think one of the things that interests me most about this is that when we look at conspiracies at this scale we tend to think of them as being enormous, involving huge numbers of people.

•    What's interesting is that this conspiracy essentially alleges that there were probably no more than a few hundred active participants scattered around the globe but what they were able to tap into was the anger of ordinary people in the United States.

•    And that anger translated into action on the ground. In effect, it's like using actual people as a bot army in the same way that you would use hijacked computers in a DDOS attack.

•    It’s not sophisticated and it's quite blunt but then that its purpose. To block. To confuse. To create discord. And it has been remarkably effective.


What about that Silicon Valley elitism?

•    Yes. SV seems to have been caught up in its own vortex. 

•    Let's go back to the story that we disagreed about a couple of weeks ago, the Tesla roadster was released on a rocket propelled superhighway to Mars.

•    Let's not forget that this stunt was done to promote a company that is in the commercial space industry.

•    While it seems quite funny and jokey, when you compare it to Neil Armstrong's line a small step for man and a a giant leap for mankind – I’m paraphrasing - it does start to look a little hollow.

•    Or the revelations that Facebook’s own boffins define middle-class as being a homeowner in Palo Alto, one of the most expensive property areas across the entire US continent.

•    Then of course there are the products themselves, such as the iPhone X which has to be one of the unjustifiably expensive pieces of kit in recent memory.

•    Or a class of venture capitalists who insist that every new product comes with an innovative way to lock customers in and restrict their choices and create a monopoly position in the industry they are disrupting.

•    To misquote the band pulp, is this the way the future wass meant to be?


If that’s the case, isn’t it a good thing that the media is treating technology with a more critical eye?

•    Of course it is. For far too long the media has been fawning in its attitude towards the people we consider to be tech visionaries.

•    I wouldn't say there has been a culture of acquiescence but I think that there was a feeling within the more mainstream media that these companies were such beacons of progressive thought and ideology that there was no way that anything more sinister could be going on beneath that glossy surface.

•    it was simply inconceivable that women or minorities might be excluded from, underpaid or mistreated within those companies.

•    These were nerd paradises, created for and by fellow geeks. There’s no way that they could become frat boy party zones, could they?

•    I have to say that the media, myself included, dropped the ball on that one.

•    We stuck to the surface, we repeated the press releases and didn't stop to consider after what kind of companies these product visionaries in their early 20s with little or no business experience might create.




Before the break we were talking about the role of the media. Is that where we're picking the story up?

•    It's as good a place as any.

•    We frequently hear that the media in the social media age has become very binary, it has lost its sense of nuance.

•    Everything has to be white or black, a one or a zero, good or bad.

•    This attitude colours our own thinking too.


In what sense?

•    There was a story earlier this week about Google removing the image button from its search results, ostensibly after lobbying from photo agencies and copyright owners who are fed up with people stealing the pictures.

•    Of course, that provokes the usual howls of online fury as the toddlers get upset that someone's taken one of their toys out of the pram.

•    The attitude is: Something that we had before has now gone and it isn't fair.

•    They don't stop to think that that functionality, which hasn't actually been removed, it's just been rendered less easy, has been taken away because it was being abused.

•    Abused by people who thought they had a right to take other people's images and have loudly taken to their favourite social media channels to complain that they've got to make an extra couple of clicks before they can download someone else's content and turn it into their hackneyed inspirational Instagram post of the day.


That’s consumer behaviour rather than the media.

•    The media behaves in a very similar all or nothing way.

•     Look at the way that attitudes towards the tech industry have changed in the media.

•    Go back a couple of years and it was very hard to find many negative stories.

•    Look at those same news outlets today and it's very hard to find the positive stories.

•    If you cherry pick these shows, you might also consider us as being guilty of the same set of biases because we’ve been pretty excoriating when it comes to SV and VCs over the past few months.

•    If you look at a lot of the major news media outlets the moment you will find plenty of stories theme of the technology industry getting its reckoning.

•    Partly this is about the growing maturity of the tech sector, by which I mean maturity in terms of age and Vintage rather than action.

•    Tech is no longer the new thing. It’s part of the status quo.

•    And as such, it tends to come under greater scrutiny. And I do welcome that.


But you think that there's a danger there as well?

•    Undoubtedly. because, as I said, we've gone from Tech been good to tech being bad.

•    That is a shift I find dangerous.

•    Because it too easily plays into the hands of people who want to manipulate the situation.

•    On one side, we have a set of media convinced that the world is full of false flag operations, new world orders, hostile takeovers of civilian institutions and a global conspiracy of space aliens masquerading as the 1%.

•    Unfortunately, there are still a lot more sides in this debate: it’s a bit like the giant disco ball that was launched into space in New Zealand last month, it's a shape with many sides and not just two.

•    We have activists like the ones I just described who are angry because Google has taken one of the toys away, a toy that was free, I might add.

•    Then we have another set of media convinced that a conspiracy of injustices this taking place amongst the world’s corporations, especially within the tech field.

•    On all sides, the echo chambers are growing, and we are increasingly intolerant or dismissive towards anyone who expresses views that run contrary to our own.

•    What I find dangerous is that it's very easy for everything that comes out of the technology sector to be labelled as bad, or viewed through a negative prism.


Why does it worry you?

•    Because it makes it acceptable and fashionable to have a Luddite response to technology.

•    The pretence that there was once this golden age before computers and phones, where filthy footed urchins played happily in the street, kicking balls made out of the hair of their dead relatives.

•    You know the story. One that forgets that most people died before their 60th birthday, that crippling and debilitating illnesses were common, women expected to lose some of the children in childbirth, or even their own lives.

•    If we give Into these fantasies then we fall into a trap.

•    We lose that sense of critical thinking and evaluation.

•    Every piece of new technology becomes us versus them, and everything that this ‘they’ want to do is automatically and inherently bad.


Is it such a bad thing if someone says they don't want to use social media any more?

•    No, of course it isn't.

•    But it is a bad thing if that person says that they want use computers or go online anymore.

•    Because that's the first step to excluding themselves from society.

•    More and more of our information and services are online.

•    Partly it's about convenience, but it's also about use of resources.

•    Especially as governments are increasingly putting this information online and scaling back access to physical information sources and services.

•    You could end up excluding yourself from banking, health, education, housing, pensions. All kinds of essential services.


Again, it is so bad that some people want to live off the grid?

•    I’m kind of a professional outsider, this job puts me on the periphery or the sidelines of most of the movements I’m interested in and comment on.

•    You can be outside the group and still aware of what’s going on in a broader sense.

•    That’s key for me. 

•    Otherwise, you become one of the people who falls between the cracks, it can be a pleasant place to be for a while, overlooked and anonymous, but it's not a place that most people want to spend their entire lives.

•    We see the results in some of the more fundamental or literal religious groups who reject certain medical treatments as being incompatible with their faith.

•    in some countries, those beliefs have been challenged in court, with the state taking over the care children whose health and interests that it felt were not being properly represented.

•    BI say this too often on the show: our actions have consequences. Those consequences can sometimes go a lot further than firing off an angry tweet at Google for making me use a sub-menu.


Why do you think we should trust the tech industry?

•    I think this is where we get back to the idea of nuance in rejecting that idea of the black-and-white and the good and bad.

•    I'm not saying we should trust the technology industry. I'm not saying we should give them a blank sheet or carte blanche.

•    We should always examine what they're doing and hold them accountable when we find their actions wanting.

•    Now is not the time to turn our backs on technology. 

•    We are on the cusp of the revolutionary breakthroughs that will make the smart phone looks like the historical blip that it is.

•    Advances in screenless technologies and invisible operating systems.

•    We are making enormous discoveries in the realms of health and enhancement.

•    Making advances that would make medicines and drugs irrelevant because we can simply engineer illnesses on disabilities out of our cellular structure.

•    Technologies designed to help elderly patients with dementia may help to enhance the memories of healthy people.

•    As we look across the vast plain of technology, there are all these incredible achievements sitting there on the horizon.

•    We want to make sure that these achievements are achievements.

•    If we stop looking at the horizon, if we stop moving towards the horizon, someone else is going to take charge of those discoveries.

•    For me, that is the most dangerous part of all of this.

•    We should get to decide how these technologies are utilised, and to do that we have to be aware and informed.

•    I'm not trying to paint the companies and organisations behind these developments as being inherently bad, but, in the same way the staff at Facebook believed that a Palo Alto income put you in the middle-class Rather than the upper reaches of the upper-class, the people at those companies may simply be unaware of the substance of our lives.


Some people might find your approach a little contradictory.

•    I admit that some people might think I'm sitting on the fence, that I'm afraid to take a side.

•    I try to stay objective.

•    That means calling companies out on their failures and praising them for their successes.

•    We have to constantly remind them that they work for us and that their livelihood and future depends on us.

•    Have a bit of humility, admit to your own mistakes instead of launching a Twitter tirade of misdirection and name calling.

•    Blind faith and blind rejection put you in a place where you can be easily manipulated.

•    And if you’re being manipulated, you’re not working in your own interests.

•    And if there’s one thing that these shows are about, it’s about figuring out what’s in our own best interests. 

Matt Armitage