Meredith Whittaker, former Google manager and current president of Signal.
Florian Hetz | Washington Post | Getty Images
Meredith Whitaker is signal foundation Last year, after a career in academia, government, and the tech industry, I moved into the nonprofit world.
She is now the president of the organization that runs one of the world’s most popular encrypted messaging apps, helping tens of millions of people keep their chats private and beyond the powers of big tech companies. I use this app to avoid
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Whittaker has real-world reasons to be skeptical of commercial companies and their use of data. Google.
After working for the search giant for over a decade, she learned from a friend in 2017 that Google’s cloud computing unit was working on a controversial deal with the Department of Defense known as Project Maven. She and other employees thought it was hypocritical for Google to work on artificial intelligence technology that could be used for drone warfare. They began talking about taking collective action against the company.
“People were coming together every week and talking about organizing,” Whitaker said in an interview with CNBC against the backdrop of Women’s History Month. there was.”
As tensions escalated, Google employees learned that the company: reportedly Paying former executive Andy Rubin a $90 million retirement package despite credible sexual misconduct allegations against the Android founder.
Whittaker helped organize a massive strike against the company, leading thousands of Google employees to demand greater transparency and an end to forced arbitration against employees. The strike represents a historic moment in the tech industry that has seen few, if any, instances of employee activism.
“Wait a minute,” Whitaker said of Rubin’s revelations and subsequent strike. “Everyone knew. The Whisperer Network was no longer Whisperer.”
Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Whittaker left Google in 2019 to return full-time to New York University’s AI Now Institute. The organization, which she co-founded in 2017, says its mission is “to help ensure that AI systems are accountable to their communities and their contexts.” increase. re-applied. “
Whittaker never intended to pursue a career in technology. She studied rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. She said she had no money and needed a gig when she joined Google in 2006 after submitting her resume to Monster.com. She eventually got a temporary job supporting her customers.
“I remember the moment someone explained to me that a server was a different kind of computer,” Whitaker said. “We weren’t living at that point in a world where every kid learned to code. That knowledge wasn’t saturated.”
“Why can I get juice for free?”
Beyond learning about technology, Whittaker had to adapt to the culture of the industry. At a company like Google at the time, this meant fancy perks and lots of indulgence.
“Part of it was trying to figure out, why are we getting free juice?” Whitaker said. “I didn’t grow up rich, so it was very foreign to me.”
Whittaker said he “learns pervasively” about the tech sector and Google’s role in it by observing and asking questions. When she was told about her Google mission to index the world’s information, she touched on political, economic and social concerns, even though many complexities were involved. She remembers it sounding relatively simple, though.
“Why is Google so passionate about net neutrality?” Whittaker noted the company’s fight to ensure Internet service providers offer equal access to content delivery.
Several European telecom providers are While it is now urging regulators to require tech companies to pay a “fair share” fee, the tech industry believes such costs are an “internet tax” and unfairly burdensome. says there is.
“I think we learned the technical nuances and the political and economic elements at the same time,” Whitaker said. “Now I understand the difference between what we say publicly and how it works internally.”
With Signal, Whitaker can focus on his mission without worrying about sales. Signal has become popular among journalists, researchers and activists because it can scramble messages so that no third party can intercept the communication.
Whittaker, a nonprofit, said Signal is “existentially important” to society and has no underlying economic motivation to deviate from its stated position that the app protects private communications.
“Sometimes we spend more money and more time securing as little data as possible,” Whittaker said. “I don’t know who’s talking to who, who you are, your profile picture, or who’s in the group you’re talking to.”
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Twitter, has praised Signal as a direct messaging tool, tweeting in November, “Twitter DM’s goal is to transcend Signal.”
Musk and Whittaker share concerns about companies profiting from AI technology. Musk was an early backer of his ChatGPT creator OpenAI, which was founded as a nonprofit. However, he said in his recent tweet that the company has become “the most profitable company effectively controlled by Microsoft.” in January, microsoft has announced a multi-billion dollar investment in OpenAI, which calls itself a “profit cap” company.
Beyond OpenAI’s confusing structure, Whittaker is embarking on the ChatGPT hype. Google recently entered the generative AI market and debuted a chatbot called Bard.
Whittaker said he sees little value in the technology and is struggling to find game-changing uses. It may not be as abrupt,” she said.
“I don’t understand anything” about ChatGPT and similar tools, Whittaker said. “Predict what is likely to be the next word in a sentence.”
OpenAI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
She fears companies will use generative AI software to “justify people doing less work,” resulting in writers, editors and content makers losing their careers. And she wants people to know that Signal has no plans to incorporate her ChatGPT into its service.
“As loud as you can for the record, no!” Whitaker said.
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