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2017年,科技巨头的转折之年

更新时间:2017-12-19 18:47:05 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

How 2017 Became a Turning Point for Tech Giants
2017年,科技巨头的转折之年

This was a terrible year for the tech industry.

今年是科技行业糟糕的一年。

That’s an odd thing to say at a time of record growth and profits. In 2017, large U.S. tech companies have kept hauling in more money and more users, and — to a degree that might seem dystopian — they continued to expand their foothold in our lives. This was a year in which Amazon created a way for its delivery drivers to let themselves into your house, and Apple created a phone you can unlock with your face.

在一个充斥着创纪录的增长与利润的时期,这么说显得有点奇怪。2017年,美国的大型科技公司持续吸纳了更多的资金与用户,并且继续在我们的生活中巩固它们的地位,看上去简直有点到了反乌托邦世界的地步。今年,亚马逊创造了一种方式,能让它的送货司机进入你家;苹果则创造了一种使用人脸识别解锁的手机。

Yet underneath this apparent success was a momentous shift in how the tech business deals with the world. Five or 10 years from now, we will come to regard 2017 as a turning point.

然而,在这一显而易见的成功之下,科技行业与世界的交流方式正在发生重大转变。再过五到十年,我们将把2017年视为一个转折点。

Why? Because this year, for the first time, tech giants began to grudgingly accept that they have some responsibility to the offline world. The scope of that responsibility, though, is another matter entirely.

为什么?因为从今年开始,科技巨头第一次开始勉强承认,他们对线下世界也负有一定责任。尽管责任的范畴有多大又完全是另一回事。

Let me explain how this is all playing out.

我来解释一下会发生什么事。

Think of these platforms as the roads, railroads and waterways of the information economy — an essentially inescapable part of life for any business or regular person who doesn’t live in a secluded cabin in the woods.

让我们把这些技术平台想象成信息经济的公路、铁路和水路——对于任何商界人士或者没有隐居山林的普通人来说,信息经济都是生活中基本上不可避免的一部分。

For years, despite their growing power, tech platforms rarely garnered much scrutiny, and they were often loath to accept how much their systems affected the real world. Indeed, the online ethos has been that platforms aren’t really responsible for how people use them. It might as well be the slogan of Silicon Valley: We just make the tech, how people use it is another story.

多年来,尽管科技平台的实力越来越强大,但很少受到严格的审查,它们常常不愿承认自己的系统对现实世界的影响。事实上,网络道德观一直认为,平台并不真正对人们如何使用它们而负责。这或许也可以成为硅谷的口号:我们只是制造科技,人们如何使用它是另一回事。

In 2017, that changed. At first grudgingly and then with apparent enthusiasm, platform companies like Facebook began accepting some responsibility for how they are affecting the real world. They did not go as far as some critics would have liked — but in many significant ways they offered a shift in tone and tactics that suggested they were rethinking their positions.

在2017年,这种情况出现了改变。一开始是勉强的,后来则带上了明显的热情,像Facebook这样的平台公司开始承认,他们在影响现实世界方面负有一定责任。虽然他们的行动并没有达到一些批评者所乐见的程度,但是在许多重要的方面,他们提出了基调和策略的转变,表明他们正在重新思考自己的立场。

You could argue that they had no choice. In the past year, social networks and search engines have been blamed for undermining the news media, fostering echo chambers, and spreading misinformation, hate, misogyny and other general social unpleasantness (YouTube, for example, removed lots of videos of kids being pretend-tortured by their parents). There was also, of course, the unfolding saga of the companies’ role in Russia’s propaganda efforts, which resulted in their being hauled before lawmakers.

你可以争辩说,他们其实别无选择。在过去一年中,社交网络和搜索引擎被指损害新闻媒体声誉、筑起观点回音室,散布错误信息、仇恨、歧视女性,以及制造其他社交网络上常见的不愉快现象(比如YouTube删除了很多父母假装折磨孩子的视频)。当然,这些公司在俄罗斯的政治宣传工作中所扮演的角色也正在显现出来,导致了国会议员对它们的关注。

And then there were the larger questions about who makes the platforms and who benefits from them. The tech industry is overwhelmingly run by men, and it is a place of little racial and class diversity. A whistle-blowing blog post by Susan Fowler, an engineer who detailed a culture of harassment and misogyny at the ride-hailing company Uber, sparked a women’s movement in tech that was then subsumed by the global #MeToo movement.

接下来还有更大的问题:是谁制造了这些平台,又是谁从中受益?科技产业绝大多数是由男性经营的,这是一个缺乏种族和阶级多样性的地方。工程师苏珊·福勒(Susan Fowler)的博客文章详细揭露了叫车公司优步(Uber)性骚扰和歧视女性文化,引发了科技界的一场女性运动,之后汇入全世界女性在社交平台上揭露性骚扰的#MeToo(我也是)运动。

Many tech titans were obviously unprepared for the serious questions that began coming their way a year ago. When Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was asked about his site’s role in the 2016 election just days after Donald Trump’s victory, he responded with a line from tech’s old playbook: It was a “pretty crazy idea,” he said, that misinformation on Facebook had “influenced the election in any way.”

这些严肃的问题在一年前就已经开始出现在科技巨头们面前,而它们显然没有做好准备。唐纳德·特朗普获胜几天后,Facebook首席执行官马克·扎克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)被问及他的网站在2016年大选中的角色,他的回答依然是科技界的老生常谈,他说,认为Facebook上的错误信息“以任何方式影响了选举”是“非常疯狂的想法”。

Now that tone is gone. Zuckerberg has apologized for his glibness. And during Facebook’s last earnings report to investors, he put the company’s social mission at the top of his agenda. “Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits,” he said.

现在这种论调消失了。扎克伯格为自己的失言而道歉。在Facebook向投资者提交的最新财报中,他把公司的社会使命放在议程的首位。“保护我们的社区比让利润最大化更为重要,”他说。

Several other tech execs have expressed similar commitments to a deeper mission. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, told my colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin that Apple had a “moral responsibility” to attempt to heal the nation’s social and economic fissures.

其他几位技术高管也表达了对更深层次使命的类似承诺。苹果公司首席执行官蒂姆·库克(Tim Cook)告诉我的同事安德鲁·罗斯·索尔金(Andrew Ross Sorkin),苹果公司负有“道德责任”,应当去试图治愈国家的社会与经济裂痕。

Sure, all this could just be marketing. But I’m inclined to believe the shift represents a new way of navigating the world, for a few reasons.

当然,这一切有可能只是营销。但是我倾向于相信,这样的转变代表了一种引导世界的新方式,原因有几个。

First, employees are demanding a new way. The highly paid workers of Silicon Valley were lured on the promise of changing the world, and in the past year many became demoralized about their companies’ apparent impact. In some cases they’re pushing their bosses to change.

首先,员工要求一种新的方式。硅谷的高薪员工受到“改变世界”这个承诺的诱惑,过去一年来,很多公司显然受到冲击,导致这些员工士气低落。在某些情况下,是他们在推动老板做出改变。

Second, for the first time in years, there’s real pressure from lawmakers. That has resulted in some real-world retreats. For instance, tech giants last month stopped fighting a bill in Congress that would allow victims of sex trafficking to sue websites that supported the sex trade. In another time, this would have been a gimme for tech companies — they aren’t responsible for how people use their services, remember?

其次,多年来,立法者首次带来了真正的压力。这引起了一些在真实世界的后撤反应。例如,上个月,科技巨头们停止反对国会通过一项法案,该法案允许性交易受害者起诉支持性交易的网站。在过去,这样的事对科技公司来说根本不是问题——他们不为人们如何使用他们的服务负责,记得吗?

Not this time.

但是这次不行了。

If the big shift of 2017 is that tech companies now accept some responsibility for how their platforms impact the world, the big mystery of 2018 and beyond is what, exactly, that responsibility will look like.

如果说2017年的重大转变是科技公司开始承认,他们对自己的平台如何影响世界负有一定责任,那么2018年及其后的巨大悬念就是,这个责任将会是什么样的。

Zuckerberg said he was willing to risk the company’s profitability to improve its community. Facebook has been testing new ideas for making its News Feed less divisive and less prone to misinformation, and for promoting what the company calls “meaningful” social connections. Facebook is also testing systems that it said would more stringently police advertising, in the hope of preventing foreign actors from using its ad network to influence an election.

扎克伯格表示,他愿意冒着影响公司收益的风险去改善它的社区。为了减少新闻订阅中引发不和的内容,让它少受错误信息影响,并提倡公司所说的“有意义”的社会联系,Facebook已经在尝试新的想法。同时,Facebook也在试验一种系统,据称能更为严格地管控广告,以期防止外国用户使用公司的广告网络影响选举。

And in response to criticism from former Facebook employees that its tech might be addictive, the company said this week that it has conducted extensive research on the subject and was “using it to inform our product development.”

有公司的前员工批评Facebook的技术或具成瘾性。作为回应,公司本周表示,他们已对此展开了全面的研究,并“作为我们的产品研发的参考”。

But what if these early efforts don’t mitigate the problems? What if Facebook finds that offering people a less polarized News Feed dramatically reduces engagement on its site, affecting its bottom line? Or what if the changes disproportionately affect one political ideology over another — would Facebook stick with a kind of responsibility that risks calling into question its impartiality?

但如果这些初步的努力无法缓解问题;如果Facebook发现,向人们提供没那么分化的新闻订阅服务会极大地减少网站的参与度,影响了公司收益;或者,如果这些改变会对某一种政治意识形态构成格外多的影响——Facebook还会继续履行这种可能使其中立性遭到质疑的义务吗?

I don’t mean to offer a barrage of hypotheticals just for the fun of it. My point is that these issues would probably be pretty hard to solve.

我提出一连串的假说并非是为了好玩。我的重点是,这些问题解决起来或许会十分困难。

“Just as the packaged food industry did in the 1950s, Facebook and Google have lured users with convenience, while feeding them a diet certain to cause lasting harm,” Roger McNamee, the musician and venture capitalist, told me. “The problem cannot be addressed by hiring; it can only be fixed by changing the algorithms in ways that will materially reduce profitability.”

“和1950年代的包装食品产业一样,Facebook和谷歌用便利性吸引用户,并使他们养成了一种势必造成持久伤害的习惯,”音乐人兼风险投资人罗杰·麦克奈米(Roger McNamee)对我说。“这个问题,通过雇人是解决不了的,只能是以一种会大幅减少收益的方式去改变算法。”

Or consider the question of diversity. I asked Ellen Pao — the former Reddit chief executive who unsuccessfully sued the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for gender discrimination — what she made of the industry’s efforts to address the issue this year.

或者,想想多样性的问题。我问鲍康如(Ellen Pao)——曾起诉凯鹏华盈(Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers)性别歧视但败诉的Reddit前首席执行官——她如何看待科技行业今年为解决问题所作的努力。

“I would give tech a C grade,” Pao, who is now the chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, wrote in an email. “Leaders are doing the bare minimum to address problems and are far from doing all that is necessary to solve the problem.”

“我会给科技行业打一个C,”现任卡帕社会影响中心(Kapor Center for Social Impact)多样性和包容性主管的鲍康如在邮件中写道。“领导者们用了最低限度的努力去应付问题;要解决问题,他们做的远远不够。”

She said she hoped for a far more vigorous effort that ushered in a complete overhaul of the culture of tech companies, and that held leaders accountable.

她表示,希望能有更加强大的力量来引领对科技公司文化的全面检修,并使领导人担起责任。

“It means firing all the people involved in the failures, from the CEO to the HR leaders to the board members in some cases,” she wrote.

“这意味着要开除所有不合格的人,从首席执行官到人力资源主管,有时还包括董事会成员,”她写道。

Pao’s and McNamee’s comments underline the real problem for the industry. Once you accept that you’re on the hook for fixing problems caused by the thing you built, people will start to expect that you really will fix them — even if the solutions are expensive or otherwise conflict with your business interests.

鲍康如和麦克奈米的评论强调了这个行业的真正问题。一旦你同意,你有责任去解决自己一手造成的问题,人们就会开始希望你真的能够解决这些问题——即使解决的代价高昂,或者会与你的企业利益产生冲突。

So, yeah, 2017 was a terrible year for the tech industry. If the fixing does not actually happen, 2018 might well be worse.

所以,是的,2017年对科技企业来说是糟糕的一年。但如果不真正地去解决问题,2018年会更加糟糕。

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