News  |    |  February 5, 2020

Ethicists aim to save tech’s soul. Will anyone let them?

News article by Linda Kinstler.
Published in Protocol.

Excerpt:

Firms are adding ethical thinking to their processes, but ethical outcomes are optional.

Fifty-two floors below the top of Salesforce Tower, I meet Paula Goldman in a glass-paneled conference room where the words EQUALITY OFFICE are spelled out on a patchwork bunting banner, the kind of decoration you might buy for a child’s birthday party.

Goldman has a master’s degree from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Harvard, where she studied how controversial ideas become mainstream. She arrived at Salesforce just over a year ago to become its first-ever Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer, taking on an unprecedented and decidedly ambiguous title that was created specifically for her unprecedented, ambiguous, yet highly specific job: see to it that Salesforce makes the world better, not worse.

“I think we’re at a moment in the industry where we’re at this inflection point,” Goldman tells me. “I think the tech industry was here before, with security in the ’80s. All of a sudden there were viruses and worms, and there needed to be a whole new way of thinking about it and dealing with it. And you saw a security industry grow up after that. And now it’s just standard protocol. You wouldn’t ship a major product without red-teaming it or making sure the right security safeguards are in it.”

I think we’re at a similar moment with ethics,” she says. “It requires not only having a set of tools by which to do the work, but also a set of norms, that it’s important. So how do you scale those norms?” [ . . . ]