Conscious Social Engineering: Can you Ethically Influence a Billion People?

Conscious Social Engineering: Can you Ethically Influence a Billion People?

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Berkman Center For Internet & Society

23 Everett Street


Cambridge, MA 02138

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Tristan Harris, Google’s ex-Product Philosopher, Design Ethicist
in conversation with
Doc Searls, Director of ProjectVRM, Berkman Center

Discussion: We think we control our thoughts, behavior and choices – but do we?

Never before in history have a handful of people working at three tech companies (Apple, Google and Facebook) influenced the thoughts, behavior and wellbeing of several billion people. When a billion people wake up in the morning and check their smartphone, the choices of those designers instantly influence the way a billion people think about their day, their lives, their relationships and obligations.

How do you ethically shape a billion people’s decisions? And what happens when 'what’s ethical' conflicts with the business incentives of the attention economy and the "race to the bottom of the brain stem” to maximize screen time? Tristan spent the last three years as Google’s Product Philosopher, trying to answer this question, and left Google to tell the whole story as part of Time Well Spent.

In this conversation with Tristan and Doc, we will explore hidden sources of influence, ethics of persuasion, and how to practically move to a new design and business paradigm that defends human agency, reflection, and choice making – from designs that enhance mindfulness to control of personal data and vendor relationship management.