The negative effects of technology, particularly social media, are at the heart of a new movement to limit users’ addiction and manipulation.
The Centre for Humane Technology was set up by a group of Silicon Valley leaders to highlight how technology is being used to hijack society.

“What began as a race to monetise our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society: mental health, democracy, social relationships, and our children,” reads the group’s statement. “There’s an invisible problem that’s affecting all of society.”

While companies are attempting to hook users’ attention, the Centre for Humane Technology believes the techniques they use could harmful on a number of levels.

The race for users’ attention has an adverse effect on mental health, on children’s development, on social relationships and even on democracy, the group believes.

More significantly, it warns that the system is vulnerable to manipulation.

And it’s so pervasive because artificial intelligence keeps users’ attention, it’s influencing people’s thinking 24 hours a day, it uses social engineering as a form of control, and it’s personalised to our exact behaviour.

The companies that make money from social media aren’t going to drive change, the Centre for Humane Technology argues, so users need to take control themselves.

It believes humane design could be part of the solution. “We are creating humane design standards, policy, and business models that more deeply align with our humanity and how we want to live,” the group states.

Apart from inspiring humane design, the group aims to apply political pressure, create a cultural awakening and engage employees in a bid to change the status quo.

“We have built a world-class team of deeply concerned former tech insiders and CEOs who intimately understand the culture, business incentives, design techniques, and organisational structures driving how technology hijacks our minds.”

The Centre for Humane Technology is led by co-founder and executive director Tristan Harris, the former Design Ethicist at Google. Founding advisor Roger McNamee helped Facebook in its early days as an advisor to Mark Zuckerberg, and introduced Sheryl Sandberg to Zuckerberg. Co-founder and chief strategy officer Aza Raskin helped build the web at Mozilla as head of user experience. Co-founder and chief operating officer Randima Fernando was executive director at Mindful Schools. Founding advisors include Renée DiResta, Sandy Parakilas and Lynn Fox, who also looks after PR and media.