Big Technology

Ex-Googler Meredith Whittaker on Political Power in Tech, the Flaws of ‘The Social Dilemma,’ and More

In a new interview, the tech labor activist and A.I. researcher discusses major issues in Silicon Valley today

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero
Published in
17 min readOct 22, 2020

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Meredith Whittaker
Meredith Whittaker

OneZero is partnering with the Big Technology Podcast from Alex Kantrowitz to bring readers exclusive access to interview transcripts with notable figures in and around the tech industry.

This week, Kantrowitz sits down with Meredith Whittaker, an A.I. researcher who helped lead Google’s employee walkout in 2018. This interview, which took place at World Summit A.I, has been edited for length and clarity.

To subscribe to the podcast and hear the interview for yourself, you can check it out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Overcast.

When I interviewed Tristan Harris about The Social Dilemma earlier this month, my mentions filled with people saying, “You should speak to the people who were critical of the social web long before the film.” One name stood out: Meredith Whittaker. An A.I. researcher and former Big Tech employee, Whittaker helped lead Google’s walkout in 2018 amid a season of activism inside the company. On this edition of the Big Technology Podcast, we spoke not only about her views on the film, but also of the future of workplace activism inside tech companies in a moment where some are questioning if it belongs at all.

Alex Kantrowitz: It seems like your perspective on The Social Dilemma is a little bit different from Tristan’s. Where do you think it went right and wrong?
Meredith Whittaker:
One of the significant weaknesses with the film was that it sidelined a lot of the people who have been researching and calling out these issues in more nuanced ways for a very long time. There are folks like Safiya Noble, Sara Roberts. Ruha Benjamin. I’d look at Black women like I’Nasah Crockett and Sydette Harry, who were, in 2014 and before, calling out racist trolls that were germinated from message boards like 4Chan. There are a lot of people who actually have been looking at some of the issues that are produced and amplified through social platforms and the consolidation of power that is now represented in a handful…

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Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.