Mark Zuckerberg says he is ‘not a robot or alien’

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook has revealed that he is not a robot

When you consider that Mark Zuckerberg is still only 38 years old, he has lived a lot of lives. Of course, at first he was just the Facebook guy—some Harvard kid who established a website in 2004 where students could check up the images and favorite movie lines of their classmates. The original site design had a cool blue and white Zuckerberg avatar at the top and the words “a Mark Zuckerberg creation” at the bottom of each page. It later found out that the avatar didn’t actually look like Zuckerberg.

Then came the Zuckerberg from the 2010 film The Social Network. Written by Aaron Sorkin, the film depicted Jesse Eisenberg’s character, Mark Zuckerberg, as a haughty computer prodigy with a razor-sharp wit and a relentless desire for power. Eisenberg’s interpretation was both hilarious and completely inaccurate. The actual Zuck may be haughty, but he’s no smooth talker; in fact, he comes across as excruciatingly awkward and oddly affectless. His every word also seems to have been mentally prepared in advance, which causes a noticeable lag.

The third stage of Zuckerberg’s public persona has now begun: soulless corporate supervillain. This chapter has recently developed a comfortable rhythm. First, it is revealed by someone, typically the New York Times, that Facebook has been openly disclosing your private data and tracking you even while you are not using the site. Then, either Zuckerberg or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg makes a general commitment to improve moving forward. New revelations restart the cycle a few weeks or months later.

Zuckerberg and Roger McNamee have been friends for almost a decade. Longtime tech investor, he first encountered Zuckerberg, then 22, in 2006 when the CEO was looking for advice on how to react to Yahoo’s billion-dollar bid to buy his business. He was advised not to sell by McNamee. The relationship between McNamee and Zuckerberg deteriorated in 2016 as McNamee sought in vain to convince Zuckerberg and Sandberg to take seriously the threat of Russian political influence on the platform. Soon after, McNamee joined the firm as an investor and became a mentor to Zuckerberg.

In a piece that appears on the cover of the most recent issue of Time magazine, McNamee describes this event. The piece is an excerpt from his upcoming book Zucked, which was inspired by the cover story he wrote for the Washington Monthly last year and will be published next month.

Which version of Zuckerberg is therefore the most accurate? I believe the first scenario is true: a Harvard student who just so happened to create a cool website. It doesn’t really matter, though, according to McNamee’s articles (I’m currently reading the book). Our attention is misdirected toward Zuckerberg the person. Power is the main problem. There is no way to avoid influencing individuals’ lives and the destiny of nations at Facebook’s or Google’s magnitude, McNamee says in Time. (It’s possible he mentioned Amazon.) Although the internet juggernauts’ supremacy is a result of their exploitation of cutting-edge technology, the core issue they present is monopoly power, which is incredibly antiquated.

Following the monopolist’s playbook, Google, Amazon, and Facebook have created “no go” zones around their essential business operations. A higher standard has been set for startups as a result of their success, which has forced business owners to sell out early or seek ideas with lower potential. Through the acquisition of businesses that would have posed a challenge to their market position, they have added more walls. To succeed, these businesses do not need to stifle startup activity, but they are powerless to stop themselves. Monopolists act in this manner.

An economy that “historically depended on startups far more than other economies, especially in technology” has now “begun a risky experiment in depending on monopolists for innovation, economic growth, and job creation,” McNamee notes. The results haven’t been great thus far: innovation across much of the economy, including the tech sector, is alarmingly low, despite the profound changes brought about by internet technology. No need to be shocked. You don’t need to worry about innovating to stay ahead of the competition when you have the kind of market dominance that Amazon or Facebook enjoy. You can just outspend your rivals or use their reliance on your platform against them. Spending money on lobbying is a better use of your innovation budget than having the government take away your monopoly.

Although Google and Amazon continue to enjoy enormous popularity among Americans, a series of crises involving Facebook appear to be triggering a recognition that big tech needs to be regulated in some way. In retrospect, it’s astounding how long it took to get here—how long the intellectual, journalistic, and political elites entertained the idea that the new digital titans should be permitted to regulate themselves. This approach was tempting in large part because it relieved everyone else of the responsibility of determining what to do regarding a brand-new, rapidly evolving business that is challenging to comprehend without a technical knowledge. We wanted to think that Google had noble intentions when it adopted “Don’t be evil” as its motto. Even though Zuckerberg’s insistence on the absolute benefit of complete openness always seemed oversimplified, at least the man appeared to be driven by a strongly held principle.

It’s not necessary to come to the conclusion that Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, or Sergey Brin of Google are evil people in order to admit our error. It only needs to be determined that they are people. Following Zuckerberg’s awkward testimony before the Senate last year, there were numerous jokes that he was actually a robot. He is too human, which is the issue. It is absurd to give one person or a tiny group this much control over so many facets of our lives and to just hope they don’t abuse it. That is not to say that everyone is innocent of responsibility or that business executives are above the law. While many of Facebook’s mistakes are understandable—challenging it’s to grow that quickly and maintain control—McNamee notes in Zucked that the company’s defensive, even hostile response to criticism is not. By accepting accountability for their decisions and the disastrous results those decisions led to, they had the chance to become the protagonist of their own tale, according to McNamee. “Instead, Sheryl and Zuck went down a different road.”

But here’s the thing: If today’s monopolists are heroes, then America’s laissez-faire approach to tech regulation makes sense. We are in serious peril if they are anything less than human.

 

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