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Mark Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday that he will host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society, which the Facebook CEO admitted will require him to “put myself out there more than I’ve been comfortable with.”
“Every few weeks I'll talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I'll try different formats to keep it interesting,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his personal Facebook page. “These will all be public, either on my Facebook or Instagram pages or on other media.”
The announcement comes in the form of Zuckerberg’s annual personal challenge, which in previous years has included everything from killing the meat he ate to wearing a tie to work.
It also points to growing skepticism from politicians, the general public and even many technologists over the possible harms of Facebook and other tech that has quickly taken hold in the lives of millions of people.
Among the critiques leveled at technology companies is the notion that some of its innovations have been created without properly anticipating negative impacts or manipulation by bad actors, a line or argument that Zuckerberg alluded to.
“'I’m an engineer, and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they'd mostly speak for themselves,” Zuckerberg said. “But given the importance of what we do, that doesn't cut it anymore.”
Zuckerberg said that although he had been hesitant to speak publicly on controversial topics, he was ready to “engage more in some of these debates about the future, the tradeoffs we face, and where we want to go.”
The new challenge follows on the one he set in 2018, which he said at the end of the year has ended up being “more than a one-year challenge.”
“We're a very different company today than we were in 2016, or even a year ago. We've fundamentally altered our DNA to focus more on preventing harm in all our services, and we've systematically shifted a large portion of our company to work on preventing harm,” he wrote.
Zuckerberg’s challenges didn’t use to be so heavy. In fact, some of them were fun.
In 2009, Facebook had 150 million users and the most important challenge facing Zuckerberg was trading in his T-shirt for a tie when he went to work. Zuckerberg vowed 2010 would be a year of progress with his Mandarin skills and it appears to have paid off. Zuckerberg has charmed crowds in China with his speaking skills, even if they’ve been criticized as “clumsy.”
In 2011, Zuckerberg killed a chicken, pig and a goat as part of his personal challenge, which was to only eat meat that he slaughtered. The animals were then sent to a butcher, who would send the meat back to Zuckerberg for his home cooking adventures, which made use of every part of the animal. Zuckerberg ate chicken livers and made stock from chicken feet, according to Fortune.
The year Facebook went public, 2012, Zuckerberg vowed to stick to his roots and code every day.
In 2013, Zuckerberg’s goal was to meet someone new — who doesn’t work at Facebook — every day and have a conversation with them. The next year, he focused on writing one “thank you” note every day, which Zuckerberg said would be tough because he’s “a really critical person.”
“I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I'm generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we're providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built. But if you look at this objectively, we're doing so well on so many of these things. I think it's important to have gratitude for that,” he told Businessweek.
In 2015, Zuckerberg committed to reading a new book every other week and announced each title on the "A Year of Books" Facebook page, where he encouraged other Facebook users to join him.
The next year, Zuckerberg built his own “Iron Man” style artificial intelligence-powered assistant named Jarvis, which was voiced by Morgan Freeman. In a video posted at the end of the year, he showed how the AI operated in his home, from helping his daughter practice her Mandarin to a T-shirt cannon that fires a fresh gray T-shirt when Zuckerberg says “fresh shirt.”
In 2017, two months after the U.S. presidential election, Zuckerberg decided to go on road trips to meet more Americans.