Void of Religion: Do You Trust Silicon Valley’s Ethics?

Christopher Benek

George Washington once said: “Of all of the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports.” Ironically, in an age when American politics seems to be less virtue based than ever, there may be one place in culture that is even more dastardly. That place is Silicon Valley.

To quote Wired Magazine: “Silicon Valley is having its Frankenstein moment. The monsters of today are the billion-dollar companies we've come to depend on for everything from search results to car rides; their creators, blindsided by what these platforms have become. Mark Zuckerberg hadn't realized, back when he launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room, that it would grow to become a home for algorithmic propaganda and filter bubbles. YouTube didn't expect to become a conspiracy theorists' highlight reel, and Twitter hadn't anticipated the state-sponsored trolling or hate speech that would define its platform.”

A Palo Alto-based think tank, the Institute of the Future, has written a handbook to help tech companies adjust their products to do less damage to humanity as humanity’s relationship with tech changes.

The guide, called Ethical OS, is meant to serve as a connector between researchers who study how tech impacts tech companies and also society and the creators of technology. Paula Goldman, the head of the Tech and Society Solutions Lab, which led the project says: “The impetus for the Ethical OS toolkit was exactly that: Here's a tool that helps you think through these consequences and makes sure what you're designing is good for the world and good for your longer-term bottom line."

Of course the larger question that arises with the creation of such a guidebook such as this is – what basis do the authors of the book ground their moral framework in to practice their ethics? Where are Washington’s indispensible supports found in their guidance? Because, until we consider the compendium of ethical instruction guiding the handbook what has really been produced is a CYA manual that simply serves as future plausible deniability.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. What impact do you think that the unintended consequences of tech development have actually had on tech developers and society?

Q2. How do you think that the absence of religion and morality as guiding principles of tech development has impacted tech development?

Q3. What efforts do you think that tech companies might make in the future to adequately consider virtue ethics taught in religion?