I’m looking for some information, and I hope this community can help!
This will be a longer post than you are probably used to here, but please do bear with me, I believe this is an issue we all feel strongly about. I could have posted this under a few different topics, as it really encompasses a whole number of greater issues.
I am looking to contact someone at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine who would have knowledge about the funding of medical research there, particularly in the department of neurosurgery. If any of you have contacts there, I would HUGELY appreciate you letting me know. Here’s the reason why:
I attended the inaugural Mind.Brain.Behavior symposium at Columbia’s Zuckerman Neuroscience Institute this week, which was an incredible experience, discovering all the amazing research being done in the field. It’s one way in which the advancement of tech has been absolutely life-changing in a positive way.
I seemed to be the only one to notice that one of the researchers presenting (from UCSF) had Facebook on his list of research investors, and so, being a professional in the digital wellness space, I didn’t hesitate to ask him during Q&A if he could share with us what Facebook’s interest is in funding his research.
Now, his research is focused on mapping the speech production areas of the brain in order to help people with brain damage and speech impairments. Ultimately, one of the things him and his team hope to do is use that information to perfect the ways in which computers can generate human speech, so that machines of the kind Dr. Stephen Hawking used could do a better job for people who really rely on them to communicate with others.
All wonderful stuff. But, given that Facebook popped up as one of the investors - you can see my concern and the dots that I connected.
The reaction in the room when I asked the question was so interesting. I didn’t even ask my question actually, and the reaction had started already! All I said was, “I noticed that Facebook is one of your investors,” and then I paused, and everyone started to bustle and exchange comments and raise eyebrows - even the researcher made this uncomfortable smile, and then proceeded to tell me that they aren’t actually an “investor” but that his research lab has contracts with lots of different companies (whatever that means), and that he doesn’t really know what their interest is, that I would need to ask them. That was his response in a nutshell.
I would imagine all of you would agree that this is one area that is not being talked about nearly enough, if at all - what are the big tech companies investing their money in, when it comes to research done at universities, labs and other research centers? I try my best to keep on the lookout for patents that these tech giants apply for, but I think we all need to do more.
Getting ‘in front’ of the tech (meaning, deciding what the tech we as individuals use will look like) has so far been incredibly difficult to do, and I think that when it comes to the way tech companies invest money in research we may have an opportunity to do that. Because we all have at least the right to know what research their money is going towards, and then hopefully the right to also decide whether or not they get to use the results of that research on us. Otherwise, we’re no more than lab rats really. Which maybe we’ve become already.
I realize I’m having a slight Erin Brockovich moment here! But I really don’t mean to - I’m going on a tiny amount of information here which is why I want to get in touch with someone at UCSF as soon as possible to understand more. So I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, and certainly don’t want to make any untrue and/or unnecessary accusations against any of the researchers involved. However, after seeing this new TED talk on Facebook and Brexit, I couldn’t stop thinking about the ethical implications of “allowing” a company (any company) with such an atrocious record of data protection and protection of privacy to invest in research that it will one day be able to use for its own benefits and purposes. And that will impact every single one of us (and our children).
OK, I’m done! If you’ve made it this far thank you SO much! I so appreciate your time.
You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any information you have that could help me.
Thank you again!