Who does technology think we are?



Dear @anon76657042,

You had written a reply, then withdrawn it. However, it was emailed to me. Just letting you know.

It was a good reply. I would encourage you to make it public, but that is your privilege, of course.

Thank you for your good posts and comments.


Thank you, thank you, @anon76657042, but that is too much honour. Making me shy :blush: :smile:

You and @patm also do an excellent job of expressing yourself, for that matter!

I’ve considered starting a blog, but my interest in tech also goes deeply, so it never came further than plans. Who knows… maybe in near future :slight_smile:


I agree with the gist of your post, but not sure if the last part is necessarily true.

While I belief in having non-profit business models in domains where you usually find mostly commercial entities, (IT/tech) companies without ads + tracking, but payed products/services could still be profitable in a healthy way, I think. But it would be harder to stick to the ethical path in the long run and when significant growth occurs, especially when e.g. accepting venture capital in early stages.


Seems like an interesting read, added it to my list. But I very often find the tomes I buy gathering dust. The time, the time… it flies :slight_smile:


I had to force myself to read the book. One thing preventing me from quitting was my own pride: I was determined to finish and understand—at least to some degree—what Taleb was saying.

He offers a beautiful prize at the end for the determined reader. I’ll scan the page and send to you.


Yes you’re right there is an opportunity for paid not for profit services as alternatives to Google, Facebook, etc . However we need to ask ourselves why they don’t exist. I’m hopeful that maybe they don’t exist because nobody’s created them yet. But the realist in me says that people have already tried, and their ideas never were able to grow because these kinds of products see slow growth without revenue or investment. Maybe there is a “critical mass” where once the product gets big enough it can start to pay for itself just by a few paid subscribers who either are paying for a premium version or are making donations.

I would think that it might be possible to make a paid, not for profit search engine since it wouldn’t need the network effect of many users necessary to start a social network. The technology would be very hard to develop or license. But again who would pay for a search engine, when they get it for free? I would not. I would just continue to ad block Google.

Actually the more I analyse it, the more I see that my conclusions in my post “The failure of humane tech” are correct. Ethical products can not compete. They will fail. They are failing. It’s not a prediction, it is an observation of reality. There is no apparent reason to believe this paradigm will change.

The solution is on the side of users, an awakening.


@Patm It is an interesting book, though I struggle with the tone used in it!

I think a further distinction can be made when thinking about so-called ‘black-swan’ events -there are knowable and unknowable unknowns. The financial crises were predictable, and predicted by some, but for other reasons these were not acted upon or taken seriously. Some of this is psychological. Whilst the future is not predictable for most things past a certain point, there are tools, and, we can influence the future (concepts like aspirational visioning lock-in and path-dependency).

A lot depends on the ability to share information, consider a wider possiblity space of events and outcomes, diverse voices and perspectives. I recommend Tetlock’s Superforecasters, as well as papers like this https://insight.jbs.cam.ac.uk/2014/why-cambridge-academics-believe-that-francis-bacon-1561-1626-may-hold-the-key-to-business-success/ . The literature on futures thinking and Foresighting is very interesting. We should always look to make the preferable future (once we can explore what that is) possible and plausible (this report gives a nice intro https://www.nesta.org.uk/report/dont-stop-thinking-about-tomorrow-a-modest-defence-of-futurology/ ).


@anon76657042 I wouldn’t lose hope. There are lot of privacy foundations, companies (perhaps fewer not-for-profits) and open-source projects/communities who are offering something different and gaining people who respect privacy and security, and wish to be part of something different.

The likes of EFF (I like their privacy badger), duckduckgo, Ubuntu, Openstreetmap, Protonmail, Signal etc. I use paid for VPN, email, and a few other things, and open-source for others. Whilst they’re not at the scale of Google et al, there are a substantial number of people using these products and it seems to be growing.

Looking elsewhere, movements like FairTrade seemed destined to be marginal, but here in the UK, it’s mainstream. Ditto organic, or welfare standards. The same is happening towards packaging and pollution suddenly (the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 and its depiction of the impacts of plastics on the ocean brought a big response). Paradigm shifts and tipping points are complex, but they do happen and change can be swift. I know some of what I have written above is not always about the underlying economic imperative changing, but it is evidence of a humane evolution.


Thank you for your good words, Jon.

I look forward to exploring the things you mention.

Did you see these comments of @aschrijver?

[A]dopting a different mindset is still hard. It helps when you realize you are on the losing end of a zero-sum game. And I think more and more become aware of this and are making changes to their lives. Small changes mostly… but that’s where it starts. It is in those small changes you can find real value. And as more people join in, then doing this becomes ever easier. You can see these - mostly grassroots - trends all around us.

You need not ditch your smartphone right away. Just start by protecting your privacy on it, don’t freely give away that data. Then don’t upgrade to the latest model anymore as soon as they become available. Use the thing as long as possible. Go to a Repair Cafe to switch the battery when needed (producers make smartphones intentionally irrepairable or very expensive to repair… thou shalt consume).

Slowly change your food buying habits. Eat a bit less meat, and have a couple of meatless days. Use the money you spare to buy unprocessed ingredients, vegetables. Buy them at a local shop, or even directly from a farmer, not a supermarket. Be smart on what you buy… take some time to compare. In Holland real ecological butter has become cheaper than a lot of margarine brands (made from crappy materials, palm oil and water). Pay with real cash, not digital money (this will become more important in future with the trend to eradicate cash… we’ll be using social credit apps instead).


While I seem to be going off-topic this is not the case. This is about changing our relationship to technology and decreasing our dependence on it. This gives us more choice. More freedom.


Thanks for pointing that out, it neatly encapsulates what I was trying to say in my last post. We can never be perfect in our choices, but we can always do our bit and try to think about how to be more conscious. I think that’s the aim for me, and not to feel too guilty about not doing enough or knowing what the ‘right’ thing is. I used to feel guilt about everything I did, it paralyses and it didn’t encourage people around me. It was almost a form of asceticism. Feeling virtue in denying.

I think the alternative of the many small choices is a sort of trojan horse approach - living in a society but using different means to get to your outcomes, needs or aspirations. Social enterprises are a bit like that. Operating in a capitalist market system, competing, but changing the culture and expectations of people, and the value created by their services or products, by reinvesting profits back into good causes. Eventually, that might be the new business model.

I’m very much in the local, ethical, slow food mindset, and have learned new trade-offs to navigate (support the local independent shop, or buy from a supermarket that guarantees fair pay and environmental stewardship? or… a little of both - in reality compromise is often avoiding simplistic binary choices ). I certainly adhere to the comments on smartphones. I only recently bought one after using second hand phones for years, or no phone. I went for a phone that was well made, had good security updates, no bloatware, will be supported for several years and the company has one of the better environmental and ethical standings in electronics. I don’t need flash, I need competent and controllable. In the end, I needed certain functions, or rather, felt they would benefit my work, volunteering and home life. I had to question myself a lot before committing. I guess it’s what some people call adding friction to our ability to consume and transact, which I think is a good thing often - a chance to pause, refectory and enquire. Using old phones was good for a while, but it was hard to secure them and find functioning services to use on them. Jailbreaking and installing your own OS isn’t always straightforward, but I am keen to see Ubuntu or other linux OS phones becoming more mainstream. Until then, as with the sentiment of the post you linked to, I’m continuing every day to make small changes to my life and be open to changing again the next day. It’s not right or wrong, but better or worse. There will always be more to do, but you end up having always done more than you would have otherwise.


Yes thank you indeed. Open-source and creative commons particularly are invaluable. Without that we would really be trapped into the pay for everything system of corporations.

I rely heavily on open source for all of my web projects as an web developer. I always find that they are infinitely better than relying on a major company. The major companies offers are tempting, but they come with strings attached. Then they can and do change those terms whenever they want to manipulate the market to their will, which they do in aggressive ways. But with open source the freedom is really limitless, freedom to interconnect and reuse and there are so many free and excellent applications built on top. I’m seeing in many cases the free open source has often become superior to what is offered by the huge companies.

I’ve tried to make the argument that humane tech is failing as a way to make people think. It’s a shame when people chase an impossible path, especially when they give up so much of their lives. I would like people to learn how to spot the pitfalls to the paths of creating humane tech before they repeat the mistakes of failed humane tech projects which fail to capture users or make money. Still I think with open source and more neutral products, these could actually succeed and help draw some attention away from the current big manipulative platforms. My way of thinking is that understanding failure of humane tech is a way to find the road to success for humane tech.

We must be really careful about the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Look at all the self-serving charities out there where all their money goes to pay their own employees and president. Look at all the “environmental” products out there that are doing more harm to the environment that standard efficient products you’d buy in a large chain store. These products often prey on “upscale” consumers looking to “make a difference”. It’s marketing, many times there is nothing more.

My first “startup” was actually to help groups and charities raise money. I abandoned it when I realised that it involved making people feel good for supporting an organisation, something I found in itself disingenuous and manipulative. Yet that is the basis of too much marketing. I think that’s the problem with technology in general it pretends to be neutral all the while steering people very strongly in one direction, the direction of attention and profit. That immorality therefore may be the cause of winning companies’ growth and market domination.

The companies that seem to do good are often times worse than the ones who seem to be neutral. Because in this case they’re still steering us toward their own profits, just with a greater distortion of the truth, wolves in sheep’s clothing.

If consumers were more aware and there were a stronger network of open source and genuinely ethical major platforms, they would be a clearly visible alternative. For example if there was an truly ethical Instagram or Google alternative which worked just as well, it would be easy for people to switch and they’d have a reason to switch. However I feel there is at this moment almost zero awareness of what it means to be ethical in technology creation. Open source in itself doesn’t mean ethical, it just means free. Many people are drawn to open source without knowing any humane tech principles. Therefore maybe one path forward is for this community to infuse the open source community with humane tech principles so that they can start to build products which are really ethically different rather than just “free and open” non-humane products.


This is wonderful inspiration for all of us. It would be great if a portion of this forum could be about changes members have made while thinking ethically and consciously and adding friction (a concept I was unfamiliar with). I know there have been comments and posts to that effect, but they haven’t been gathered in one place.

We could put it on the TWS wiki, which admins have referred us to, but as far as I can tell, people are reluctant to use that as a vehicle for storing information. Admins, are you listening? To me it seems like a cold satellite of the forum, a distant place where a few people have ventured but none reside. It needs some dramatic transformation—a change of name would be a great first step, in my opinion—and some brave souls to form the first colony.

Going back to what you said earlier:

The point that Taleb makes in his book is that experts and leaders failed to predict the financial crises because they were invested in a certain version of the future. Because they failed to lead properly, many suffered. This is why Taleb tells us to beware of experts.

As you and others have pointed out, each of us can be an “expert”—what Taleb calls a skeptical empiricist—examining each chunk of knowledge handed to us by society, cracking it open and reassembling it to best fit how we live and think. :sunny:


BlockquoteThe point that Taleb makes in his book is that experts and leaders failed to predict the financial crises because they were invested in a certain version of the future. Because they failed to lead properly, many suffered. This is why Taleb tells us to beware of experts.

Yes, they were, and invested in a certain mentality. Futures thinking is sadly still in its infancy in many organisation and practices. It’s much art as science, and the ability to consider the unfavourable as well as favourable outcomes (if doing normative scenarios), and backcast to see how that might arise. Whilst I think we should be sceptical empiricists, we need to be more than that, because trends can only be extrapolated in certain circumstances and so far (though being a sceptical empiricist is useful in debunking many claims outside of futures thinking and generally a useful approach). I think it’s about being an expert in method (not believing you are the expert, but trying to be) and not necessarily in knowledge. That said, I think the backlash against ‘experts’ (often political theorists and economists in the case of current affairs) has gone a bit far, because whilst there are faults with bodies like academic institutions, what they produce in terms of peer-review is generally a much better guide, and not equivalent to what others can produce in many areas (I’m thinking particularly on issues like climate change, where great efforts have been made to discredit science and sow uncertainty, creating a false ‘debate’ where anyone can be an expert, often with disastrous (IMO) results). I am reminded of the advice about reading people’s take on history - study the historian before you begin to study the facts!

The downside of this personal mode of sceptism, is that it requires time, effort and consciousness. Although over time I think we all find sources that by design we trust to a greater extent - like when people publish code in Git-hub, or provide transparency in their methods or workings (I think a nice, if off topic example is Rapanui clothing, who as well as making good quality ethical clothing, provide a means for the user to examine their supply chain https://rapanuiclothing.com/traceability-clothing/ as well as tool for others to use their supply chain and printing ) .


@patm Thanks for pointing out the wiki, I had no idea, and your suggestion is very good and timely I think!


I agree completely, well said! The other humane part of open source is that by default it relies on trust, community and interaction, and I think that’s a good springboard to talk about the other humane aspects that this forum is discussing.

I also think you are right to raise the issue of learning from failures . Whether it is the idea, the timing or the context, I think too often this sort of learning is missed, and the great and seemingly unlikely successes are heralded and generalised upon; often on the basis of a causation or attribution to the success that perhaps isn’t justified (i.e. sometimes things are just the right time, place and network). This also ties into the idea of generating wider sets of scenarios when it comes to futures thinking and planning. I found the work of Feduzi and Runde (linked in a post above) really useful in how they talk about widening our possibility spaces for ideas, almost like two axes intersecting that consider likeliness and favourability (and their negative counterparts). I think it helps counter the human tendency, especially for idealists and optimists, to believe in all the reasons why it would work, and not spend equal time thinking about why it might not.


Yes, very good points, Jon.

This forum, by bringing together many people and allowing them to have their say, is a kind of collective intelligence, a place where we can present and vet ideas and practices.

The Hawaiian word for such a group is hui.


Jon, see this article about helping children with diabetes: https://www.dezeen.com/2018/02/23/thomy-renata-souza-luque-type-one-diabetes-toolkit-children-design-indaba/. How many software designers would have used a different approach? It took this woman, who cared about her cousin, to come up with this brilliant, elegantly simple design.

Regarding the Cambridge article you mentioned: even though Taleb is cited only at the end, most of the ideas in the article are his; the researchers donʻt appear to acknowledge this parentage.

And it was war hawk Donald Rumsfeld who first used the term unknown unknowns.


No , personally I dont think you're rambling I think you are arriving to the heart of this issue, no doubt. But its really we can`'t simply change not only rules o f the this play, nor values that support the rules.
We can’t also be a philosofical forum, not the focus.
But no doubt that the position of CHT , or to be involved in this movement is supported in values choice. Reading and reading different posts we can “feel” a great ethical position. Surely to think how to improve health of people, is just a great way of changing the rules. In fact, to be wondering here about this issues is because we are thinking finally in a best world for everybody .
But I think we are not only dreamers (but it is necesary to be a dreamer to change anything) , we are working to the changes be real. And I think just now we can see the beginning of the change.
Now the point is what to do to impulse more and more the changes ?
I think that it’s impossible one person change the rules , but people can do it . Why ? Because everey business need customers . No customer, no business. And people is changing their mind . I suspect this when I was in San Francisco for Christmas 2016 , it was “in the air”. But from February from now , and specially from Cambridge Analytica stuff , the change is in the streets, in the news, in the Goverment , and the most important of all is in the heart of people all over the world.
The “customer” is changing , so the business needs to change to survive.
But I think thar the most important change of all is an ethical change , a great one: people is claiming for freedom. And usually in the human history when people claimes for freedom , there was no business, no politic system , no walls can stop the way to freedom ?
Now , I asl you , am I a dreamer ???


The Cultural Awakening is a great concept , full of light and power.
Surely , this concept catched my interest when this forum begun.
I’m not a techie designer , I am a HR man , so I feel this concept close to my environment. And I learnt a lot working with tech people, learnt a lot talking with you…
I will take your suggest to talk to Mamie and Randie


To be fair to the authors, their paper actually focuses upon a new way of using a much older technique by Francis Bacon from the 17th Century for exploring how the future will unfold (they compare Baconian algorithm and Bayesian approaches). The article was just a blog. Rumsfeld may be the most famous exponent of unknown unknowns (but he didn’t split them into knowable and unknowable unknowns) but the idea of these, and interest in them, predates this paper, Rumsefl and Taleb. Taleb has a particular spin and definition and has brought it into more mainstream discussion, that’s for sure. The general concept has been studied in engineering and risk management, and looked at in Behavioural Decision Making for some time. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=duIY77a2WRYC&lpg=PA245&ots=9W2YHm7j9T&dq=Wideman%2C%201992%20unknowns&pg=PA245#v=onepage&q=Wideman,%201992%20unknowns&f=false

I guess almost all authors are standing on the shoulders of giants, and help us inch forward! There’s some really interesting literature out there on this topic and about tools to help us navigate through the problems it presents.

Thanks for the link, that’s really interesting and well though-through as an approach (especially the time to fae matching the time for a new injection site).

There’s a project in Bristol, UK, which has a really good ethos you might like, especially their diagram on creating the city commons, and the role of technology in that. http://kwmc.org.uk/projects/bristolapproach/
The Framework

The Bristol Approach framework contains six phases. It has been structured to ensure that community technology programmes are driven by issues that are relevant to local needs and take place at community level, with local people actively involved in design, testing and evaluation.

It builds on the classic co-creation and user-centred design ethos, and also places technology last normally, problem and person first (is technology even the thing they need). I really like their work and that done by Making Sense in Barcelona http://making-sense.eu/ which helps people frame and understand their own problems and help them develop tools to find solutions. I was really impressed when I heard them speak about their work; a real contrast from many so-called ‘Smart City’ projects .


Thanks for your post Alfredo, you make some very good points. What do you think regulation like GDPR will do to changing the tech industry, because of the way it makes (in theory) people more aware of what is being done with their data and why, and asks for active consent (as well as the ensuring of privacy and security by default)?