Former U.S. President Barack Obama warned that technology is creating a more splintered world, fueling the disparities among wealthy and poorer nations, and people within countries.
“The rise of extreme inequality both within nations and between nations that is being turbocharged by globalization and technology” is one of the biggest risks for young people, Obama said Thursday at Salesforce.com Inc.’s annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. “New technologies have allowed us reach. We have a global market. I can project my voice and you can take your technology to new markets. It has also amplified inequalities.”
Though his successor Donald Trump has taken presidential use of Twitter to new heights, Obama has long been associated with the tech industry. His 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns were known for their use of the internet and social media to galvanize supporters. Some of Obama’s staffers came from Silicon Valley companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, and there’s a diaspora of former Obama administration officials who have worked in the tech industry since leaving the White House, including David Plouffe, formerly with Uber Technologies Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.’s top spokesman Jay Carney.
Still, the 44th president talked about how the internet has helped divide American politics and society.
“People remark on the polarization of our politics and rightfully so,” Obama said. “People rightfully see challenges like climate change and mass refugees and feel like things are spinning out of control. Behind that, what I see is a sense of anxiety, rootlessness and uncertainty in so many people. Some of that is fed by technology and there’s an anger formed by those technologies.”
Social-media services including Facebook Inc. and Google‘s YouTube have been accused of fueling polarization with algorithms that show people news and other content that match their preconceived thinking and viewpoints.
“If you watch Fox News, you live in a different reality than if you read the New York Times. If you follow one rabbit hole on YouTube or the internet, then suddenly things look completely different,” Obama said during his conversation with Salesforce co-Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff. “We are siloing ourselves off in ways that are dangerous. I believed, and I still believe the internet can be a powerful tool for us to finally see each other and unify us, but right now it’s disappointing.”
Since leaving the White House in January 2017, Obama has become a fixture on the paid-speaker circuit. Thursday’s appearance at Dreamforce is at least Obama’s second appearance at a tech event in San Francisco in the last two months. He also spoke at a Splunk Inc. conference in September.
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