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humane tech

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

The humane tech movement is a growing initiative dedicated to aligning technology to human needs rather than exploiting human vulnerabilities for profit, as has too often been the model in the past. Humane technology is designed to be socially responsible, providing benefits for users and society without causing commonly-observed negative effects such as information overload and promotion of discord, extremism and disinformation.

The movement seeks to change the way industry works, moving away from what some are calling the extractive attention economy, which runs on money from technologies that overburden and exploit user attention. Another major focus of humane tech is mitigating the problems caused or exacerbated by social media, which include digital addiction, political polarization and social isolation.

The movement also seeks to improve the quality of content that people encounter to control the spread of things like disinformation, hate speech and propaganda and reduce their effect on individuals and society. Those efforts might include mandating algorithmic transparency and accountability for the types of content that are shared through a given platform.

As part of the humane tech trend, many of those involved with designing exploitative systems have begun to campaign for industry reform. Guillaume Chaslot, for example, was a Google engineer involved with YouTube algorithms designed to keep users watching videos as long as possible. Chaslot speaks openly about intentional efforts to make users “hooked to the platform” in his capacity as advisor to the Center for Humane Technology (CHT), as well as why YouTube algorithms “drive millions of users to divisive and false information. The Center was co-founded by Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google.

This was last updated in July 2019

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