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Technology Campaigners Want Firms to Connect People in Positive Ways, Fight ‘Human Downgrading’

YouTube and other companies have said they are cracking down on extremist speech and have removed advertising revenue-sharing from some categories of content

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FILE - Signage is seen inside the YouTube Space LA offices in Los Angeles, California, Oct. 21, 2015. VOA

Technology firms should do more to connect people in positive ways and steer away from trends that have tended to exploit human weaknesses, ethicists told a meeting of Silicon Valley leaders on Tuesday.

Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin are the co-founders of the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology and the ones who prompted Apple and Google to nudge phone users toward reducing their screen time.

Now they want companies and regulators to focus on reversing what they called “human downgrading,” which they see as at the root of a dozen worsening problems, by reconsidering the design and financial incentives of their systems.

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Technology firms should do more to connect people in positive ways and steer away from trends that have tended to exploit human weaknesses. VOA

Before a hand-picked crowd of about 300 technologists, philanthropists and others concerned with issues such as internet addiction, political polarization, and the spread of misinformation on the web, Harris said Silicon Valley was too focused on making computers surpass human strengths, rather than worrying about how they already exploit human weaknesses.

If that is not reversed, he said, “that could be the end of human agency,” or free will. Problems include the spread of hate speech and conspiracy theories, propelled by financial incentives to keep users engaged alongside the use of powerful artificial intelligence on platforms like Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, Harris said.

YouTube and other companies have said they are cracking down on extremist speech and have removed advertising revenue-sharing from some categories of content.

Active Facebook communities can be a force for good but they also aid the dissemination of false information, the campaigners said. For example, a vocal fringe that oppose vaccines, believing contrary to scientific evidence that they cause autism, has led to an uptick in diseases that were nearly eradicated.

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Facebook said in March it would reduce the distribution of content from groups promoting vaccine hoaxes. Pixabay

Facebook said in March it would reduce the distribution of content from groups promoting vaccine hoaxes. In an interview after his speech, Harris said that what he has called a race to the bottom of the brainstem – manipulation of human instincts and emotions – could be reversed.

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For example, he said that Apple and Google could reward app developers who help users, or Facebook could suggest that someone showing signs of depression call a friend who had previously been supportive.

Tech personalities attending included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, early Facebook funder turned critic Roger McNamee and MoveOn founders Joan Blades and Wes Boyd. Tech money is also backing the Center, including charitable funds started by founders of Hewlett Packard, EBay, and Craigslist. The big companies, Harris said, “can change the incentives.” (VOA)

Next Story

Chinese Shout ‘Boycott Apple’ as US Goes After Huawei

To avoid the ban, Apple released a small update to iOS, saying that iOS version 12.1.2 contains software changes exclusive to China

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A customer is entering the Apple store in Fairfax, Virginia. VOA

As the Washington-Beijing trade war intensifies along with fresh restrictions on Chinese telecom giant Huawei in the US, there has been a significant rise in “Boycott Apple” movement in China.

According to BuzzFeed News, there has been a flurry of anti-Apple and anti-Trump messages on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

“I feel guilty watching the trade war. Once I have money I will change my smartphone (iPhone),” one user posted on Weibo.

“I think Huawei’s branding is amazing, it chops an apple into eight pieces,” read another post.

China has urged the US to stop “harassing overseas companies” and slammed US President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a national emergency order that prohibits American firms from using foreign-made equipment, citing espionage fears.

The US move, which effectively takes aim at Chinese telecom giant Huawei, comes as the two economic superpowers are locked in a bitter unending trade war.

Chinese telecom giant Huawei has said that it is still open to addressing US security concerns.

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FILE – A woman stands at the booth of Huawei featuring 5G technology at the PT Expo in Beijing, China, Sept. 28, 2018. VOA

“The functions in Huawei are comparable to Apple iPhones or even better. We have such a good smartphone alternative, why are we still using Apple?” said one user on Weibo.

This isn’t the first time that the “Boycott Apple” movement has gained traction in China.

Chinese companies in December last year rallied behind the tech giant, offering hefty discounts to employees to buy Huawei devices and shun iPhones.

According to Nikkei Asian Review, the move came after the detention of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the request of American prosecutors.

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Over 20 Chinese companies also took to social media to announce that they will increase purchases of other Huawei products.

A Chinese court in December banned the sale and import of most iPhone models after granting Qualcomm an injunction against Apple.

To avoid the ban, Apple released a small update to iOS, saying that iOS version 12.1.2 contains software changes exclusive to China. (IANS)