46 – Here’s Our Plan And We Don’t Know with Tristan Harris, Aza Raskin, and Stephanie Lepp

February 3, 2022

Renowned quantum physicist Richard Feynman once wrote, "It is our capacity to doubt that will determine the future of civilization." 

In that spirit, this episode is a little different – because we're talking openly about our doubts, with you, our listeners. It's also different because it’s hosted by our Executive Producer Stephanie Lepp, with Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin in the hot seats.

How have we evolved our understanding of our social media predicament? How has that evolution inspired us to question the work we do at Center for Humane Technology? Join us as we say those three magic words — I don't know — and yet pursue our mission to the best of our ability.


Guests

Tristan Harris started his career as a magician. He studied persuasive technology at Stanford University, and used what he learned to build a company called Apture, which was acquired by Google. It was at Google where Tristan first sounded the alarm on the harms posed by technology that manipulates attention for profit. Since then, he's spent his career articulating the insidious effects of today’s social media platforms, and envisioning how technology can serve humanity. Today, Tristan is the president and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. 

Aza Raskin was trained as a mathematician and dark matter physicist. He took 3 companies from founding to acquisition before co-founding the Center for Humane Technology with Tristan and Randima Fernando. Aza is also a co-founder of the Earth Species Project, an open-source collaborative non-profit dedicated to decoding animal communication. Aza’s father, Jef Raskin, created the Macintosh project at Apple — with the vision that humane technology should help, not harm, humans.  

Stephanie Lepp started her career as a bar/bat-mitzvah dancer, and studied Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford. As a producer and futurist, her work strives to hold up a mirror — inviting us to grow from what we see. She won two Webbys for Deep Reckonings, a series of explicitly-marked deepfake videos that imagine morally courageous versions of our public figures. Stephanie is the Executive Producer of Your Undivided Attention. Be in touch with her on Twitter @stephlepp.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways


  • On Your Undivided Attention, we've covered various social issues, like addiction, disinformation, polarization, and climate change. Specifically, the so-called "generator frame" sees different social issues as symptoms of the same generator functions of existential risk. For this reason, if we care about addressing the problems of exponential technology, we must care about understanding and addressing these core generator functions. To learn about these functions, hear our episode with Daniel Schmactenberger.
  • According to philosopher Forrest Landry, we're running a destructive program across different domains: abstraction, extraction, depletion, and pollution. For example, trees are abstracted into "lumber with one number," extracted by being logged, and depleted due to over-logging, which pollutes our ecosystem. Similarly, our attention is abstracted into clicks, extracted through algorithms that maximize engagement, and deplete our well-being, which pollutes our social and informational ecosystem.
  • Along with being a co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and co-host of Your Undivided Attention, Aza Raskin is a co-founder of the Earth Species Project — an open-source collaborative non-profit dedicated to decoding non-human language. The organization is motivated by the belief that an understanding of non-human languages will change our ecological impact on this planet.
  • In the words of Quantum physicist Richard Feynman, "It is our capacity to doubt that will determine the future of civilization." It's in this spirit that Tristan and Aza's friend Joe Edelman launched Doubt Club — a monthly gathering of startup founders dedicated to expressing their doubts. To start your own Doubt Club, find fellow entrepreneurs who are working on non-competing ideas. Agree that whatever is said won't leave the room. Then articulate your doubts in three rounds: first, share doubts about your product. Second, share doubts about your company mission or metrics. And third, share doubts about your life mission and career.

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