10 Storytellers Who Informed Our Outlook on Tech in 2019

Omidyar Network
Dec 11, 2019 · 3 min read

By Abiah Weaver, Omidyar Network

2019 will be remembered, in part, for the amount of mass media dedicated to appraising technology’s power.
Millions of people around the world consumed the live-streamed testimonies of tech executives, found their news feeds flooded with investigative reports, and even stood in line to listen to defectors on book tours. Compelling podcasts, polls, and popular films enticed many to break their self-imposed screen time limits and examine the future of tech.

We binged too. We can’t help it; we’re tech stewards. We want to live in a world where technology accelerates inclusion, expands access to services, and stimulates innovation that improves lives. But technology is changing and maturing quickly, and has veered off track in some cases. Our investments are based on the premise that technology needs to be steered to deliver positive outcomes for individuals and society. So, we’ve made it our business to stay aware of these public debates and learn from diverse experts.

Every day in 2019, we read about technology, platforms, and connectivity serving as a tremendous force for good … and where it is attacking everything we hold dear. These stories were a powerful way for us to learn about the tech issues affecting human wellbeing and individual liberty. They also helped us find and promote solutions that can help address the unintended consequences of technology and change how it is built and used.

Below is a list of 10 books, documentaries, podcasts, and television series about responsible technology that captured our attention this year. Among them, you will find organizations and individuals that are fostering innovation and creativity, empowering technology users, enforcing clear rules and boundaries for tech companies, and leading an evolving discussion about technology’s use in society.

1. The Privacy Project | a themed reporting project by The New York Times

2. The Great Hack | a Netflix documentary on disinformation and the 2016 US presidential election inspired by journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who broke the Cambridge Analytica story

3. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism — The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power | a nonfiction book by Shoshana Zuboff, examining how corporations gain wealth and control with user data

4. Silicon Valley | a six-season, scripted television series about startup culture by Mike Judge and HBO

5. The Inventor — Out for Blood in Silicon Valley | a cautionary tale and HBO documentary about the perverse incentives that led to the downfall of one biotech startup. If you want more like this, check out the bestselling nonfiction book on the same company, Bad Blood — Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (2018).

6. AI Superpowers — China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order | a nonfiction book by Kai-Fu Lee, highlighting the geopolitical and ethical responsibilities that come with significant technological power

7. Race After Technology | a nonfiction book by Ruha Benjamin, which reminds us technology is not neutral and shows how it can hide discrimination and deepen inequities

8. Coders — The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World | a nonfiction book by Clive Thompson that explains how computer programmers think

9. Loonshots — How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries | a bestselling leadership book by biotech founder Safi Bahcall, which shows us how to cultivate bold ideas

10. Should This Exist? | a podcast that asks the question “How is technology impacting our humanity?”. We’re proud to support this conversation led by entrepreneur Caterina Fake in partnership with WaitWhat and Quartz. Subscribe today and download the new season in January 2020.

As you consider what to do with your downtime at the end of the year, we encourage you to add these valuable stories to your queue and browse our blog where we talk about how we’re translating these lessons into investments. And here’s a second list of recommendations from 2019 that taught us more about the inequities in our economy and what workers truly want.

*More than 50 additional stories (and countless other sources) deserve honorable mentions for guiding our thinking on how best to reinforce the phenomenal potential of technology as well as how to manage its risks and negative outcomes.

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A philanthropic investment firm harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. #PositiveReturns

Positive Returns

Working to create a world of positive returns

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