I watched the Guardian’s interview with Christopher Wylie, the former (founding) staffer of what became Cambridge Analytica, as he described what the organization did, and pointed the finger at the CEO, at Steve Bannon, and so on. He described his own role as “data scientist”, “running an experiment” using psychological profile information to modify voter behavior, making it sound like some sort of value-neutral lab test. Apparently he left the firm only after deciding that the right-wing clients his company was working for were not to his taste.
When asked about the result of the experiment, he professed not to know how much what he and his colleagues had done had influenced the outcome of the elections in the US and the Brexit referendum in the UK. Not much of the scientific method there.
It seems clear to me that this is a man with a self-professed blindness to the moral position of the work he, personally, did. Blanketing it in sciency-sounding terms is an attempt to obscure the fact that what he was doing was morally indefensible.
The Steve Bannons and Donald Trumps of the world can’t wreak the havoc they do without the technical people like Mr Wylie providing them with the tools. I see and hear of technical people all the time electing to work on questionable ends, all the time touting the value-free nature of the tools they’re building (“it’s not the tool, it’s the person using it” – sound familiar?) This is particularly hurtful to me, since I’m in a technical field.
We all get to make these decisions with the work we choose to do, or not to do. We all should live with the consequences.