What is Humane Tech?

A significant amount of the technology we use is exploitative to some degree. (I should know, after writing numerous guides about avoiding the likes of Google and Facebook!) Humane tech is an ideal that aims to shift the focus to creating socially-responsible technology that doesn’t exploit the user. It’s a noble idea, and one that becomes more important as our dependence on various forms of tech increases.

👉 The Center for Humane Technology (CHT) was co-founded by Tristan Harris, who previously pushed the ‘Time Well Spent’ movement after originally working for Google, where he produced an internal presentation in 2013 entitled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention”. Along with Google, he namechecked Apple and Facebook, highlighting their responsibilities to their users.

While the CHT freely admits that benefits do derive from social media and mobile tech to some degree, they also bring up various issues that have begun to affect society on a wider scale. These include:

Digital Addiction
Many people are addicted to technology, with digital slot machines compounding the issue.

Mental Health
Digital addiction and increased social media use can have a negative impact on mental health.

Breakdown of Truth 
It’s becoming harder to tell what’s real and what isn’t, especially if spending a lot of time online.

Has it become more difficult to co-operate with others due to polarising online ideologies?

Political Manipulation 
This is caused either by creating rifts and sowing seeds of doubt, or by people directly impacting elections themselves.

By focusing on looks and likes, have we become more superficial?

These issues indicate a “mismatch between our natural human sensitivities and the exponentially growing power of technology”, a problem likely to escalate in future. Harris disappeared for almost a year after the ‘Time Well Spent’ movement failed to take off; blaming the language he used, he switched to calling the process “human downgrading”. The organisation now raises “awareness for millions of people while advising and mobilising tech companies, top executives, investors, technologists, and political leaders.”

👉 Many tech companies appear unimpressed with Harris’ ideas. In the UK, Facebook and Google have yet to ban political ads on their platforms, despite Twitter voluntarily doing so in time for the 2019 election. Regardless, the CHT raises a number of valid points, and plans to lobby for more regulation around tech companies’ use of manipulative practices towards users.

Instead of exploiting our vulnerabilities, there are endless ways in which tech could be used to improve society, as well as our overall quality of life. It’s still a small movement, but hopefully humane tech will continue to grow in the coming years.

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