Home > Columns > CRM Columns

Changing the World Technological Climate to Enhance Human Wisdom


Presented By: CrmXchange

The Center for Humane Technology:  

Changing the World Technological Climate to Enhance Human Wisdom

Everyone has an opinion on climate change. While people have divergent beliefs on whether human activity is causing it, there is universal awareness of the topic along with a plethora of suggested actions to resolve it. But there is another crisis of great magnitude that is threatening to permanently unravel the social fabric that has always bound people together.

According to Tristan Harris, a former Google Product Manager, Design Ethicist and Product Philosopher, “Human degradation is the climate change of culture.” Harris points out that while recent conversation has centered around at what point technology will overwhelm human strength and capabilities, it ignores the fact that technology has long since overwhelmed human weakness. This has led to both conscious and unconscious exploitation of human vulnerabilities, with alarming results. The ever-growing list of consequences include: 

  • Exceeding cognitive limits, putting social media users on constant information overload
  • Triggering dopamine response, leading to addictive use
  • Social validation of opinions, creating a wave of mass narcissism
  • Confirmation bias, unleashing and expanding the growing phenomena of ‘fake news’
  • Hacking into outrage, which produces the unprecedented polarization with which we now live
  • Manipulation of trust, creating a path for bots and deep fakes to exert influence 

Harris went on to become the co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology, a group of technology insiders, whose mission is to re-align technology with humanity's best interests. Speaking at a “What’s Now San Francisco” forum to a tech industry audience, he outlined what he sees as the heart of the problem.  “We have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology. We’re like chimpanzees with nukes. The phenomena outlined above have set up a checkmate on our nervous system, contributing to shortened attention spans, social isolation, teen depression and suicide attempts, a breakdown of the ability to make sense, belief in ludicrous conspiracy theories and post-truth world. It’s an interconnected system of harms that cannot be resolved individually but must be addressed with a change in the way companies think.”

Harris sees the systemic solution as one that focuses on ending what he calls “attention and surveillance capitalism.” He defines this core problem as a business model for tech companies: one which postulates that the better they are at manipulating people’s nervous systems by knowing things about individuals that they don’t know about themselves and keeping them in a tight loop, the more successful they will be.

Counteracting this toxic philosophy will require changing the way technology is built through external pressure (the public, parents and teachers), external pressure (with employees of tech companies pushing for reform) and aspirational pressure to turn away from the deteriorating system under which they now operate and asking transformative questions. 

The current paradigm in Silicon Valley is that companies must take actions that fall into two areas:

Minimize responsibility  

  • Give users what they want
  • Disrupt everything
  • Assert that technology needs to be neutral
  • Operate on the assumption “Who are we to choose what truth is for people?” 
  • Grow at all costs
Commodify the human experience 
  • Design to convert users
  • Obsess over metrics
  • Capture attention 
He looks to a future where companies adapt new principles to create a more humane approach, embodying responsibility as opposed to minimizing it and enhancing human wisdom instead of commodifying the experience. This involves: 
  • Seeing what they are doing in terms of human vulnerabilities
  • Finding and strengthening existing brilliance to find common ground
  • Acknowledging that businesses are constructing the social world as opposed to merely presenting options
  • Realizing that they play an inevitable role in making choices and designing to help people make wise ones
  • Binding growth with responsibility, obsessing over what really matters
  • Nurturing awareness  

HumaneTech believes that positive results can ultimately be affected by convincing perhaps 1000 people in Silicon Valley to make necessary reforms.  And while they realize it won’t be quite as simple as that, they are dedicated to employing a combination of thought leadership, pressure, and inspiration to drive market demand and momentum for products and services based on Humane Technology principles.