The Social Dilemma, a recent Netflix documentary on the negative effects of social media and personalization on our personal and social life, is a film that changes your mindset on the future of AI. It sets the stage for the discussion of essential issues, which is considered the first step to raise social and ethical awareness in the technology sector. Are you devoted to a more ethical and human-sensitive AI? Then, don’t hesitate to read on.
The protagonist of The Social Dilemma is Tristan Harris, an ex-Googler, who got fed up with the way how big tech companies work. So Harris founded the Center for Humane Technology, an institute which gives design guidelines for practitioners and lobbies for stricter regulations. Although the diagnosis of the documentary suggests that the logic of capitalism forces firms to design addictive tools and to close us into virtual echo chambers, Harris, along with the film makers, suggests that we can change the system.
Fresh ideas on persuasive technology
Byung-Chul Han, a German/Swiss star-philosopher, thinks that social media is just a new form of power in our neo-liberal age. Capitalists need no physical power over the masses, modern information technologies provide them with ways to manipulate people by using very subtle psychological tricks, like “persuasive technology”. Han’s short book, Psychopolitics, is a brilliant philosophical work on this topic. Although it is good at revealing the symptom, it gives no hints on what should we do to heal citizens and make the free. Warning! If you are not used to contemporary continental philosophy, this book is probably not the best choice for you, since you can bump into names like Heidegger, Foucault, Bourdieu at least five times per page.
The marriage of design and philosophy
What shall we do if we still want to use technology, but we don’t want to hurt our human fellows and our societies? What if we have to make our living, even if we are against the current system? There are no simple answers to these questions, but there are movements which deal with such questions. Postphenomenology sounds like a tongue twister, but this philosophical school offers a framework to think about technology and to design solutions that respect human values. No, you don’t have to earn a Philosophy degree, but it’s recommended to take the Philosophy of Technology and Design: Shaping the Relations Between Humans and Technologies MOOC on FutureLearn. You won’t regret it, since you can learn a lot about technology, design and their role in our life – in a very entertaining way.
Although the guidelines set by the Center for Humane Technology are good, they are very general and basic. If you desire more, get familiar with the Value Sensitive Design, which is a more nuanced methodology. It’s worth incorporating it into your design process.
If you have already seen The Social Dilemma and/or you have started thinking about how technology can impact us in unintended ways, you made the first step. Learning about ethics and design is a never ending process. The more open you are to new theories and solutions, the easier it is to assess the real impact of your work and/or product on your fellows and on society.
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