The technologist who ran Donald Trump's automated ad campaign on Facebook says "unsupervised" software can bring out the best and worst of humanity.
Darren Bolding, chief technology officer of Cambridge Analytica, told the crowd at the third annual Internet Summit in San Francisco on Thursday that "algorithms will find the worst in us if you let them go nuts."
His comments came during an interview onstage with Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig in front of several hundred people gathered to hear him discuss the campaign. The interview was led by Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet service provider Cloudflare, which removed a white supremacist website from its network in the wake of Trump's comments after a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bolding — who worked at the Republican National Committee before joining Cambridge in January of 2017 — said that the RNC used 15 "issue models" to target political ads at Facebook users during the 2016 U.S. election campaign.
When asked by Prince if he considered himself to be "the man who got Trump elected," Bolding passed on taking a victory lap.
"The reason Trump won was Trump himself," Bolding said, as a two-story, room-wide wall to his right was filled with the Twitter posts of people in the audience, beamed in real-time onto the massive concrete wall at Cloudflare's headquarters here.
"It's good for society to have shared context," Bolding said, essentially agreeing with a comment by Lessig, who was lamenting the fractured nature of American politics and society onstage.
"But people who have differences need to have them addressed," said Bolding, who answered "no," when asked if he thought the technology he uses was 'ruining democracy.'
The event came as Facebook faces growing criticism to release more details on the ads it sent to users that it says were bought by Russians looking to influence U.S. voters.
The ads were targeted using the same automated Facebook system used by Cambridge Analytica, and for the same purpose -- to influence the U.S. presidential election.
That system can be gamed to find ad-targeting categories as benign as people who looking to buy a used car to those who may be predisposed to meeting racist anti-Semites, as a report by the public-interest journalism group ProPublica reported Thursday.
That report was addressed onstage at the internet conference at Cloudflare headquarters.
"It's not that [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg is interested in attacking Jews," said Lessig, the Harvard law professor, during the onstage discussion. "It's that his technology...allows for the feeding of this micro-targeting."
That technology reinforces the tendency people have to seek out those with similar views, which results in consumers of social media content living in "niche, bizarre worlds," Lessing said.
The age of the internet "is the best and worst of all possible times." he said.