How mainstream media can’t hold tech companies to account

This morning’s Observer column:

The interview was a classic mainstream media production. Rajan had done the kind of homework that big-time reporters do, right down to reading Henry Kissinger’s musings on the subject of artificial intelligence. “I want to find out,” he declared at the beginning, “who he [Pichai] actually is, apply some proper scrutiny to Google’s power, and understand where technology is taking all of us.” It turns out that he and Pichai both have family in Tamil Nadu and are obsessed with cricket. In the end they even managed to have a cod cricket game in which Rajan tried to bowl a googly at the boss of Google. So they’re both nice guys, got on like a house on fire and told us absolutely nothing.

Like I said: a classic mainstream media treatment of tech. The BBC’s media editor wanted to find out “where technology is taking all of us”. He is thus a native speaker of the narrative of tech determinism – the view that technology drives history and the role of society is simply to mop up afterwards and adjust to the new reality. It is also, incidentally, the narrative that the tech companies have assiduously cultivated from the very beginning, because it usefully diverts attention from awkward questions about human agency and whether democracies might have ideas about which kinds of technology are tolerable or beneficial and which not.

Do read the whole thing