Tim O'Reilly presenting on stage.

Watch: Tim O’Reilly’s presentation at Pembroke College Cambridge, October 2023, exploring how to make AI more accountable.

Back in October, Tim O’Reilly, writer, and founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, joined us as Pembroke College Cambridge to discuss how our attention and behaviour is managed online, and how rents are often extracted from our activity.

About the talk

An abundance of information produces a scarcity of attention, as Herbert Simon noted in 1970. In the future (that is, our present) he postulated that we would need machines to help us manage our attention. And that insight is an essential foundation for understanding and managing today’s information technologies.

Given the role of machines in how humans process information today, it becomes clear that the disclosures that we require of companies today miss the mark. Today’s corporate disclosures have been designed for markets in which all the levers of market power and misbehaviour are financial. By contrast, we need to define what today’s big tech companies and the developers of frontier AI should be required to disclose about the operational metrics that they use to monetise and engage users as well as to manage disinformation, fairness, safety, and other possible harms.

Even when AI companies are doing their best to do everything right, we can’t ignore the market-shaping power of internet platform technologies. Without sufficient information from which to form a baseline of AI and platform behaviour, we will have little ability to see and correct things when things begin to go off the rails.

About Tim O’Reilly

Tim O’Reilly has a history of convening conversations that reshape the computer industry. He’s played a key role in framing and evangelizing terms such as “open source software” “web 2.0” “the Maker movement” and “government as a platform”. He is the founder, CEO, and Chairman of O’Reilly Media, and a partner at early stage venture firm O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (OATV). He is also on the boards of Code for America, PeerJ, Civis Analytics, and PopVox. His book, WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us, explores what technology advances teach us about the future economy and government as its “platform.” He is a Visiting Professor of Practice at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, where he is researching a new approach to regulating big technology platforms by limiting their ability to extract economic rents.