Social Good Summit 2023

To fix the future, don’t treat tech as enemy, says author Andrew Keen

Christa Escudero

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To fix the future, don’t treat tech as enemy, says author Andrew Keen

Book author Andrew Keen, speaks at the Social Good Summit 2023, in Taguig City on September 16.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

‘Technology in itself is neither good nor bad…. It depends how [companies] use this technology. It depends what kinds of goals they have,’ says author Andrew Keen at the 2023 Social Good Summit

As the present is inundated with mis- and disinformation, and marked by social and political polarization, the erosion of democratic institutions, and other problems connected to Big Tech, how can the world fix the future?

For author and entrepreneur Andrew Keen, instead of villainizing technology, the world must make use of it. 

“Tech is inevitable. It’s unavoidable. We live in the age of technology, or at least digital technology…. We need to be in charge of this technology before it is in charge of us,” Keen said at the 2023 Social Good Summit (SGS) at the Samsung Hall, SM Aura, in Taguig City, on Saturday, September 16.

“In my book How to Fix the Future, I talk about human agency. I talk about the essence of shaping our own history before that history is shaped by others,” he added.

Aside from the 2019 book, Keen also wrote The Internet is Not the Answer in 2015 and Cult of the Amateur in 2007. In previous talks in Manila, he had criticized how the internet has evolved into becoming an “epic failure” and ushering in a “new dark age.”

Keen cited the work of Rappler and its CEO, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, in finding “ways in which this technology can be shaped to our benefit.”

At the same event, Rappler launched aiDialogue, an experimental online consultation forum to crowdsource inputs from the public on policies that should govern artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, moderated by an AI tool called Rai.

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The project is in line with the 10-Point Plan, launched by Ressa together with her fellow laureate Dmitry Muratov, which lists the ways governments can mitigate harms brought by Big Tech.

“AI is, of course, and I could stand here for hours and talk about the dangers of AI, but AI offers huge potential as well,” Keen suggested. 

“As [Ressa] said, we’ve created, through social media, the foundations of the artificial intelligence of the human race. Now, that’s not ideal in some ways. In some ways, it’s rather ugly. But it is a foundation for moving forward.”

Keen asserted the neutrality of technology, saying that what shapes its impact are the goals of the ones using it.

“We have to spoil out of this love-hate relationship with technology…. Technology in itself is neither good nor bad…. It depends how [companies] use this technology. It depends what kinds of goals they have.”

‘New ways of doing things’  

In his speech, Keen suggested a change in approach in addressing technological problems.

“We need to rethink, reorganize, restructure our international organizations, our way of doing business, our way of thinking of the state and politics,” he said. 

“I’m not sure we’re in the twilight age of the nation state, but what I am sure of is that the international organizations of the 20th century don’t work…. We need new organizations, new ways of doing things that will address the very problems that we’re creating.”

Keen cited Mufasa Suleyman, co-founder of AI company DeepMind, and Ian Bremer, founder of consultancy firm Eurasia Group, who both argued that policymakers must include tech companies into conversations about reining in the harms of Big Tech.

“Tech can do good if it’s encouraged, if it’s shaped…. It’s really important not to fall into the trap of reaction. It’s really important not to feel that any kind of embrace of technology is in itself problematic, particularly when it comes to AI,” he added.

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During the Rappler event, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo also challenged lawmakers “to take a proactive role, to have this disposition of anticipatory governance…in terms of setting up frameworks and guardrails for technology particularly on AI to ensure that this will ultimately be beneficial to our people and will respect, protect, and uphold their rights.”

Former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton also advised bringing in experts and practitioners on board to come up with effective laws in the use of tech.

“Most decision makers, and I include myself, we are not experts in technology. We’re not experts in generative AI. A lot of times we don’t have the understanding that is required to legislate and regulate in such a complex area,” she acknowledged.

“We need more practitioners and experts on the side of reform in governments, in legislatures across the world to be able to go toe to toe…. We need more people on the frontlines in order to help make this a fair fight when it comes to legislation and regulation.”

Read more stories on SGS 2023 here. —

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Christa Escudero

Christa Escudero is a digital communications specialist for Rappler.