Mark Zuckerberg knows he has some work to do.
But he’s ready to turn that all around. Following his long-established tradition of declaring annual “personal challenges,” Zuckerberg announced on Jan. 8 that’s he’s figured out how to do it: by hosting public discussions about all the problems Facebook has helped to create.
And if his past personal challenge of visiting every U.S. state is any indication, those discussions will likely be highly produced public relations affairs designed to make Zuckerberg look like he is really interested in cleaning up the mess he made.
“My challenge for 2019 is to host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society — the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties,” he writes. “Every few weeks I’ll talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I’ll try different formats to keep it interesting.”
And just what, exactly, are those potential different formats? Facebook and Instagram, for the most part.
“These will all be public,” Zuckerberg notes, “either on my Facebook or Instagram pages or on other media.”
Sure, it is commendable that the CEO who bought four of his neighbors’ houses intending to raze them to protect his personal privacy now plans to put himself out there a little more. But you can be forgiven for being skeptical that anything of real value — other than perhaps more wonderfully awkward photos — will come out of this endeavor.
Here’s the thing: Zuckerberg already had his chance to show us his vision for the future of technology. And if the last few years are any indication, that vision failed miserably. It’s long past time to shut up and listen.
Still, maybe this won’t be a series of stage-managed photo ops. Maybe the experts will be serious, knowledgeable, independent critics rather than handpicked Facebook fans. Imagine academics, lawmakers, and Average Joes berating the CEO in public for how badly he screwed things up. That would make for a New Year’s resolution we can all get behind.
Here’s Zuck’s post in its entirety.
Every year I take on a personal challenge to learn something new. I’ve built an AI for my home, run 365 miles, visited every US state, read 25 books, and learned Mandarin.
Last year, I focused almost all my time on addressing important issues around elections, speech, privacy, and well-being. Facebook is a different company now than it was a couple of years ago because of a much greater focus on these questions. These issues are complex and we will continue focusing on them for years to come.
There are so many big questions about the world we want to live in and technology’s place in it. Do we want technology to keep giving more people a voice, or will traditional gatekeepers control what ideas can be expressed? Should we decentralize authority through encryption or other means to put more power in people’s hands? In a world where many physical communities are weakening, what role can the internet play in strengthening our social fabric? How do we build an internet that helps people come together to address the world’s biggest problems that require global-scale collaboration? How do we build technology that creates more jobs rather than just building AI to automate things people do? What form will this all take now that the smartphone is mature? And how do we keep up the pace of scientific and technological progress across fields?
My challenge for 2019 is to host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society — the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties. Every few weeks I’ll talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I’ll try different formats to keep it interesting. These will all be public, either on my Facebook or Instagram pages or on other media.
This will be intellectually interesting, but there’s a personal challenge for me here too. I’m an engineer, and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they’d mostly speak for themselves. But given the importance of what we do, that doesn’t cut it anymore. So I’m going to put myself out there more than I’ve been comfortable with and engage more in some of these debates about the future, the tradeoffs we face, and where we want to go.
I’m looking forward to another year of learning and personal improvement, and to discussing a lot important questions with all of you!