The Zuckerberg dilemma

From a NYT interview with Mark Zuckerberg:

Roose: Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed, recently said he had lost some sleep over Facebook’s role in the violence in Myanmar. You’ve said you’re “outraged” about what happened with Cambridge Analytica, but when you think about the many things that are happening with Facebook all over the world, are you losing any sleep? Do you feel any guilt about the role Facebook is playing in the world?

Zuckerberg: That’s a good question. I think, you know, we’re doing something here which is unprecedented, in terms of building a community for people all over the world to be able to share what matters to them, and connect across boundaries. I think what we’re seeing is, there are new challenges that I don’t think anyone had anticipated before.

If you had asked me, when I got started with Facebook, if one of the central things I’d need to work on now is preventing governments from interfering in each other’s elections, there’s no way I thought that’s what I’d be doing, if we talked in 2004 in my dorm room.

Overall, he had handled the interview well. He came across as honest and sincere. That is important.

But, what set me thinking was the portion highlighted. Most of the time – or all the time – we have no idea of what we are unleashing, when we set out on a path. What we are unleashing for ourselves, for people around us and in the larger world. With many of us, the consequences are limited to a smaller circle of family, friends and colleagues. We do not cause much damage or good. In the process, we will never know whether we helped someone realise their potential for the greater good or limit theirs from doing good.

But, some of us have the ability to influence events far bigger and wider than in our immediate circle. Zuckerberg’ FB is an example. It takes on shapes and forms that one could have hardly visualised at conception. That is what he is admitting.

That is not a reason not to try. Human beings will always not know what is coming next. That is no reason not to try. But, it should inform how we try and, at what point, we stop ‘trying’ and ‘surrender’ to the larger force or wisdom.

At a somewhat more mundane level, does it set limits on growth? I had written on this earlier too. FB’s impact and the situations it keeps throwing up make me keep revisiting these issues. When do we completely lose control of the forces that we unleash? At that point, do we simply admit and walk away that we had created a Frankenstein monster rather than being a force for good?

Can we even anticipate that moment and stop ourselves a moment or two before that? Is it even possible?

I do not have answers to these questions. But, I find these questions fascinating and posing these questions repeatedly to myself and others might help me discover some answers which, again, have to keep evolving. Not easy.

Proving the point being made

The argument does not create the idea, the idea creates the argument. [Link]

So says Manu Joseph in this article. Nothing new. I saw it the first time two years ago in Jonathan Haidt’s ‘Righteous Mind’. That too, I am sure, was not the first time it was mentioned or discovered but that Haidt himself had cited from research.

We do not use reason to make decisions or to form priors but we use them to rationalise decisions we make or to validate our priors.

Having said this in a somewhat complicated way, Manu Joseph goes on to demonstrate that the article itself was a very laboured attempt to make the point – totally unconnected to the issue – that, for him, Amartya Sen is a more ‘conscientious’ person whereas Bhagwati was a mere ‘economist’.

Regardless of the motives and the manner in which Bhagwati argued with Amartya Sen, he was absolutely right to challenge the notion that economic growth did not matter or that distribution mattered more.