Expect Pat Gelsinger, the CEO of business software giant VMware, to speak out more often about technology’s harmful effects on society.
Tech companies must pay more attention to ethical issues and ensure that their products don't damage society, he argues.
“You can’t have company business models that are fundamentally prying on people’s personal data and the only way for them to deliver financial returns is to become more invasive of humanity,” Gelsinger told Fortune.
Gelsinger's comments come as VMware hosts its annual conference in San Francisco, starting Monday. His warnings are quickly becoming more common from tech leaders, many of whom had previously spent years praising the fruits of innovation.
Gelsinger believes that tech companies need to take more responsibility for the impact that their products and business models have on society. Doing so could help rehabilitate the technology industry’s reputation, which has declined in recent years amid a series of controversies.
These days, companies like VMware, which is part of the Dell Technologies family of enterprise firms, are trying to distance themselves from the heat. Gelsinger fears being subject to future regulations that are actually designed to rein in ad-driven tech companies.
Although not singled out for data privacy violations, VMware must comply with Europe's tough GDPR privacy law, for example.
“The customers of my products need to be GDPR compliant,” Gelsinger said. “And while some may say I may not be a company that is monetizing personal data, both the customers of my customers are.”
His point is that if tech companies don’t stop their bad behavior, “then the social-political framework will manage them in.” This could result in over regulation, something he fears will stifle innovation.
Among Gelsinger’s biggest complaints about the tech industry involves the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The blockchain technology that powers Bitcoin is an example of a “neutral” technology while Bitcoin digital currency is an example of how blockchain can be misused, he said.
Bitcoin, Gelsinger said, is contributing to the climate crisis because of the immense electrical energy required for mining it using computers, servers, and cooling machines.
“It takes the energy of a home, half-a-home a day, to do a single entry into a Bitcoin ledger,” Gelsinger said. “It’s climate intolerant, it is so extreme, it is bad design.”
He also says that people primarily use Bitcoin for illicit activities, and that overall, it is "bad for humanity."
Gelsinger's comments are sure to provoke backlash from the Bitcoin community, who view Bitcoin as a possible global currency that’s akin to a digital gold. But he said that he's ready for it.
“Of course, because to me the dialogue is exactly what we need,” Gelsinger said. “We don’t get to be absent from the policy and social debates—we have to be an active participant in them in shaping technology to be good.”
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