Former U.S. President Barack Obama is concerned about the impact technology can have on society.
“Big disruptive” information technologies can sometimes be “dangerous,” Obama said during a talk with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. “People don’t know what’s true and what’s not, and what to believe,” he noted, adding that instead of uniting people, technology — like social media — is “splintering” them.
“If you watch Fox News, you live in a different reality than if you read The New York Times,” he explained. “We’re siloing ourselves off from each other in a way that’s dangerous.”
He also believes that technology, in general, can overwhelm people — even the former First Lady. “Michelle once spent half an hour trying to figure out how to turn off an overhead light,” Obama said.
Obama’s comments come as Big Tech firms are under a great deal of scrutiny. The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating companies like Google and Facebook, and is even exploring the possibility of breaking them up. The topic has come up amid the 2020 presidential election, with candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren putting out a plan earlier this year to break up large tech firms like Facebook and Amazon.
“Today’s Big Tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society and our democracy,” Warren wrote in a blog post at the time. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”
Warren wants to make certain firms into “platform utilities,” which would be companies with worldwide revenues of at least $25 billion. Those firms would not be able to own platform participants and the utility itself. In addition, Warren wants to have regulators undo mergers that she believes are “anti-competitive,” like the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, and the purchase of Instagram or WhatsApp by Facebook.