The failure of humane tech


#1

Tech companies become huge not because they’re the best, but because they’re minimally ethical as this allows them to grow their user base, user attention, user tracking, advertising and profits maximally though addictive and possibly harmful products.

Any for-profit company can not possibly align its interests completely with that of its users. If they did the products would have to be free of cost, free of ads, free of addictiveness and distractions, and with no selling of personal information, and so they would have no money.

Attempts at making ethical companies will fail, as they will fail to grow and also fail to make any money. Charging for products won’t work when users can get a similar product for free, and charging a fee will exclude products from the poor.

There is however an advantage in “appearing” to be ethical. That is why big companies try to convince us and their employees that they are “connecting the world” (Facebook) and “don’t be evil” (Google) when in fact this is little more than carefully crafted propaganda. These companies are however not completely unethical as that would turn off their employees and users, but rather they are minimally ethical.

Companies that try to be more ethical will never grow as big as the minimally ethical ones. However more ethical products may appeal to smaller niche markets, but to survive will still have to be quite unethical so they can make money.

Technology mirrors life and it is human nature for many people to be selfish and take advantage of others.

What will work is a cultural awakening of users, to use better tech and also stop using harmful and addictive products.

Regulations like the EU cookie law and GDPR will end up doing more harm than good, because they create problems in the form of annoyances, lost productivity and economic losses which are greater than they problems they attempt to solve. These laws also increase the competitive advantages companies who ignore the laws, and of unethical companies who force or trick people into consent (as Google and Facebook are doing). These laws will harm ethical companies and journalists, and cause EU ad revenue for small business who are foolish enough to comply to drop to slightly less than half of their previous earnings before GDPR, and will also harm EU advertisers, EU consumption levels and ultimately the economy of the EU. To prevent that from happening, businesses will force or trick people into consent or not comply at all, and that is the ethical choice.


#2

You’re honestly right, but I’d argue another side.

There is no reason for tech companies to make that much money without a truly needed, and known product.

Microsoft has Windows, and that’s why it made all the money it did.

Nintendo has game systems, ans that’s why it made all the money it did.

Samsung, and Apple have hardware too. It’s how they made money.

Google use to be like this. It started as a search engine, and a good one. Then it went to ads, and started becoming vague in what it did.

Facebook has always been about manipulating it’s users.

Both Google and Facebook claim to be ad companies, but it’s easy to see that the best way to sell ads would be to put them on alike content. If I’m watching the Mario cartoon then toss me a commercial about the new MegaMan game coming out.

Google and Facebook aren’t really an “ad company” anymore. They sell “their product*” to people wanting to run ads on their platform.

*Their product is the millions of users they conned into thinking they need their websites.

In the end you might not be able to make as much money without being unethical, but I’d argue that said money isn’t needed, and that if you are being ethical then it’s in your best interest to have laws made to prevent people from being unethical. I could make a lot of money killing people, and robbing banks, but people knew this would be a problem, and made those things into big crimes so people wouldn’t just do that all day. The reason for this is simple. Some things are worth more then money. My mental health, and the mental health of those around me are worth much more then $10,000 a month or more.


#3

They need to make enough money to cover the high salaries of engineers, as well as to offset the high rate of failure of risky tech ventures.

I have hope however that competing services could be developed in lower-cost locations in the world, by people with a different mindset, so there is a small glimmer of hope.

Google always have been a search engine and into ads, and still are. Ads still provide about 90% of Google’s revenue.

I have heard this statement “their product is you” many times in the major media and even academia, so I understand why you would say that. Though clever and philosophical sounding, It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and even becomes ridiculous the more one thinks about it. If it were true we’d also be the “product” of TV stations, radio, magazines and newspapers. Actually nobody is selling “us”. Surely nobody is selling your eyeballs or my eyeballs. The products (really services) are consumer internet services and the advertisement themselves.


Who does technology think we are?
#4

You honestly sound more interested in saying your piece and then proving anyone who doesn’t agree with you wrong then having a discussion. Choosing to nitpick things like “The product is you” by saying “They aren’t selling our liver” instead of actually finding a good argument.

As for Google… Do you really think their ads came before their search engine?

Finally, I’m curious. You seem to just not like the idea of Humane Tech, so why are you even on this forum? I did give you the benefit of the doubt, but after seeing your reply I honestly think you’re just complaining. Humane Tech will have faults because it’s a human concept. Our entire ego-conscious itself has faults.

Humane Tech isn’t perfect, and it won’t be. It will be better then Inhumane Tech for the people who need it to be though, and I feel like that is something worth striving for.


#5

Actually I spent a great deal of time investigating all of the issues I’ve mentioned in this post. Yes it is my opinion, but in all honesty I think I know what I am talking about.

I’m surprised that you think I’m complaining? Why would I attempt to complain about humane tech which is a good thing? I’m just saying there is a reason why it fails, and that reason is not changing.

Thank you, this is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping to get started. Yes you feel humane tech is worth striving for. Me too I feel that too! Doesn’t everybody though?

Well I think almost everyone likes humane tech, especially me. I’m just pointing out that humane tech is a colossal failure. This isn’t me projecting my own view, this is just my observation of reality. That reality explains why humane tech products can not compete on the same level as unethical products.

I am a keen observer, and I spent months if not years tackling this very issue before I wrote this post, about a topic which I care deeply about.

You know users never see all the thousands of products that fail. Idealistic people try, throw away their lives to create humane tech startups. This has been going on for years, even over a decade. It is history, yet people don’t learn from history because they don’t see it or they don’t observe. These failed startup founders could instead be building up their lives, getting paid well, starting a home and a family. But no, they must save the world with humane tech that by my calculations and observations will fail. Why should they put their lives on the altar and sacrifice themselves for what will lead them to poverty? They can’t fight reality, even if they “feel” that they are doing the right thing it doesn’t matter if their humane tech products fail, which they do. And the proof is there, because if humane tech succeeded we would be using humane products instead of the products of what my careful observations and contacts really are evil corporations.

Also my job for the last 10 years is in creating and running internet services which have tried from the start to be ethical. I have found in my own extensive experience that in fact there is a great benefit in trying to be ethical because it means creating a better products which stand the test of time and are actually the most useful to users, even if they make less money in the short to medium term. However in order to keep our ethical services running, we still need to do unethical things like send users down addictive conversion funnels, maximise attention, trick people into clicking on ads and track users for the purposes of advertising. You can say I’m evil if you want, but then you’d me missing the point that I create free services which help people and have made much less money that I would in a job.

I have 2 former friends who have become multimillionaires doing evil in Silicon Valley, 2 more who did it scamming adtech, and also have direct contacts at Google who I can speak to at any time. I do business with Google and can attest to them doing evil and heartless things on multiple occasions over the years, and can think of numerous times they broke the law. If only there were an alternative to this aloof monopoly.


#6

Not for profit companies have to create a surplus as well … there needs to be a way to cover salaries (big or small, or even just food and shelter of those that dedicate their time) so a useful question to ask of any organization is “what is your business model?” …
It may be donations, ads, product sales, services sold … etc. But without income, the consumer has no assurance of any future service/product or whatever.

There are ethical companies, and less ethical companies. Digital Equipment, who developed one of the first search engines (Altavista) refused to take advertising as a business model, and subsequently went out of business (not just for that reason, a number of other factors, but they missed the opportunity to be Google)

Transparency of business models (revenue sources) helps users to be more aware of why this supplier is providing their service. The cultural awakening suggested is an important step … so how do we make that happen? With users, with innovators and CEO’s?


#7

Microsoft has Windows, and that’s why it made all the money it did.

Nintendo has game systems, and that’s why it made all the money it did.

Samsung, and Apple have hardware too. It’s how they made money.

The fact is that tech was able to be just fine before inhumane tech, and will be just fine after.

Humane tech is not a colossal failure. The people who do nothing about inhumane tech, and allow it to work are the colossal failures.If someone is saying “inhumane tech the only way to make enough money to make a career in tech” then they’re still giving power to a culture that is as described: inhumane.

@JeDI said this was a “cultural awakening” but I feel this is a “cultural reawakening,” and that if we want to move forward we simply need to look at what we did before.


#8

Nice arguments. Yes unfortunately this humane tech discussion is too focussed on just free apps and websites, especially online services such as search and social networks. It seems that when you pay for something, be it hardware or software, it’s more ethical. You’re really on to something there, because you’ve shown that if people paid then the products would be ethical.

Imagine if Apple decided just to use its money from paid products to create an ad-free and ethical search engine and social network for free, they could destroy both Google and Facebook in an instant. But then would they do it if it would only endlessly lose them money?

Well then how do we stop inhumane tech? Seems too many people now are hooked on tech like drugs, I wouldn’t call them colossal failures but rather victims.

I don’t see anyone here saying inhumane tech is the only way to make money in tech.

However the evidence suggests everywhere in the world, unethical people are getting fifty rich by scamming the rest of us. That’s not in tech, that’s many big business, oligarchs and other dirty politics, people are literally murdering others by the thousands for money in some parts of the world. Then they put a shiny clean wrapper around it and sell those products to us. Some still wear suits to hide their crookedness, but these days its more often they wear hoodies and pretend to be “cool” save the world leftists when in fact they’re anything but, they want to be tzars with mansions, private jets and yachts. And they are.

I have said that the tech industry is in itself aloof geeks who do not understand the real world, and there is inherent evil in tech because information technology in so many ways enables dehumanising behaviour.


#9

I don’t see a way of stopping it, other than embedding ethical principles in the networks we use, or enforcing change politically. There is no way billion dollar companies like facebook will just have an epiphany and actually change their business model. I also don’t have high hopes for a significant change of consciousness of the average user, at least not in near future.