Humanities are crucial for technological innovation

By Alissa Quart for San Francisco Chronicle

The men and women who run America’s tech giants are accused of many sins, including building platforms and devices that can invade our privacy and even degrade our democracy. But one other commonality among these masters of the code universe is rarely discussed. Virtually none of these people — Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Jack Dorsey, et cetera — has a background in the humanities, such as literature and history.

If their behavior is any guide, few of these titans have seemingly taken on board the questions at the heart of, say, philosophy and the social or biological sciences: What does it means to be human, what it means to be a citizen, and what our responsibilities are to one another other. Instead, we have some pretty selfish, ahistorical and even post-human notions of ownership, consumption and meaning at these companies.

Their transgressions are particularly pertinent now — we learned last month that Facebook “expects” to be fined up to $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission (it could be more) for consumer privacy violations, and last week Uber filed for an initial public offering, leading to its drivers (and Lyft’s) in a number of American cities going on strike, simply demanding livable incomes, and job security, among other things. We must now consider why people behind these conglomerates have been indifferent to the injustices they have been enabling.

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