The Path of The Humane Technologist 📚⚙
My intention in writing this piece is to spark conversation around an important meta-question, propose a personal development curriculum for technologists, and connect with those who are ready to jump into the mystery of this work.
I wrote this on land that has long been stewarded by the Karuk people.
What Makes a Humane Technologist?
It’s a critical question that deserves more attention if we want to make good on the promises of the movement. So far we have coherence around things like design principles (humane tech is sensitive to human nature, narrows the gap between the powerful and the marginalized, reduces hatred and greed, and so on).
But what about the people creating the technology?
How’s their understanding of human nature? What’s their analysis on systemic marginalization? Are their choices free of hate and greed? What is the ideal anatomy of the type of person we want to trust and empower to build in this new way? How does such great transformation happen?
As a pioneer in the field, co-founding Digital Wellness Collective and the late Siempo: a humane tech interface (postmortem draft here), I have a few years of experience living these questions.
I believe we are sorely lacking in the education department, and thus have a beautiful and historic opportunity to develop alternative pathways to the dominant and inhumane YC / VC / MBA culture.
• We don’t get humane technology without humane technologists.
• We need to develop new curricula, pedagogy & communities of practice that empower humane technologists with the capacities, awarenesses, values and experiences that are essential to create in a more life-honoring way.
• The path of the humane technologist offers a high ROI in terms of richness of life.
How Are We Doing At Nurturing The Next Generation of Technologists?
“Human development and education are often the elephant in the room when it comes to calls for system-level change.” — Zak Stein
Despite the overwhelming success of The Social Dilemma and a myriad of organizing efforts by The Center for Humane Technology and grassroots supporters, Silicon Valley continues marching to the destructive beat of “move fast and break things.” High achieving youth are peak stoked about a career path that will both make them rich AND have the biggest impact.
The game is a race through an outdated and monocultural startup education towards unsustainable ideas of success, taking cues from role models who have proven profoundly inadequate to meet the complex challenges of our time (Mark, Steve, Jeff, Travis, Adam, Evan etc. — and we can thank these teachers for inspiring a different way forward). Grind culture, toxic individualism, and other distortions of the capitalist mindset prevent most founders from slowing down to reflect on the inner dimensions of self or develop a critical lens.
Much has been written on how to infuse tech and business with mindfulness and spirituality, or sustainability and justice. We hear calls for a more compassionate, high integrity, heart-centered technologist, through scores of books, TED talks, and retreats focused on making that one key tweak. Teach ethics to CIS students! Invest in Diversity Equity & Inclusion trainings! Try that hot new plant medicine!
Humane technology is more multidimensional than that. But there is no source of holistic education reaching technologists that goes the depth required to empower them to “create technology worthy of the human spirit.” No comprehensive training that would help founders and developers know themselves better and cultivate the skills to contribute to a thriving future.
Let’s pretend you’re God/dess 🙏🏽
Take a deep breath. Your biggest of the day 💨
You are designing a young entrepreneur. Somebody who is going to build a new technology that influences the lives of many people.
What would you have this person study in school?
Who would you introduce as role models for them?
What initiations or challenging experiences would you have them face?
What skills would you have them learn?
What questions would you have them sit with?
These questions beg more attention. I’d love to continuously entertain them by crowdsourcing perspectives and creating space for conversation, so we can bubble up the educational material and praxis that is most effective, accessible, and non-dogmatic. The adoption of humane tech principles is going to take time, and even if the next generation of technologists has them down, how much of a difference will it make if they are still racing towards old ideas of personal success, don’t know who they are, and lack a critical lens?
It’s time for us to have a serious conversation about what influences ought to influence those who are gaining influence. About what type of person we want to grant such immense power to, amidst an unprecedented situation in which young people are coming into power at accelerating rates and dumping the amplified waste of their limited consciousness onto the rest of us. Obtaining the power of Gods, without the love or wisdom of Gods.
I don’t believe we have many role model humane technologists or humane tech companies to point to and lift up today. They are aspirational archetypes, the embodiment of which require a radical slowing down, unlearning and relearning. This is a problem, since you can’t be what you can’t see. And it’s also our great invitation. As the sociopolitical events of recent years highlight the dire need need to transform systems of extraction and oppression, more fingers are starting to point to the person in the mirror.
Proposing New Curricula
So what would be on the syllabus? What are the markers or badges of a humane technologist?
Through my challenging tenure in the Uncanny Valley and subsequently enriching experiences in the emerging humane technology field, I’ve found myself deep in inquiry around the aforementioned questions, gravitating towards the cultural wilderness for clues: attending gatherings of indigenous wisdom keepers, living in an East Bay activist home, supporting a metamodern political movement, studying at an awakening school..
With Siempo I realized I had a context and permission to really “live the mission” of creating technology that protects and promotes human flourishing. I interpreted that by doubling down on working on myself, and focusing as much on ‘the how’ of our innovation as ‘the what.’
The natural evolution of that inquiry is to share some of what I’ve been exposed to with those ready to dive in. To be sure, I am a new student too, teaching what I need to learn. I couldn’t possibly have the answers.
Here’s my stab at outlining a syllabus that reflects my unconscious attempt at creating a self-directed grad school between 2016 and 2020:
If this were to be developed and offered as a transdisciplinary course, the goal would be to provide aspiring humane technologists with an introduction to relevant domains, experiential exercises, and curated resources to support deeper dives. Maps. Onramps for a long-term learning journey. No “one and done” certifications here. The complexity of our times demand a multi-decade continuing education investment for those who want to walk the path.
‘Success’ at the end of such an intro course might look like each student:
a) Articulating a long-term learning journey of their most relevant questions to explore and inner work to engage with
b) Creating a short-term action plan for progressing on that journey in a balanced, embodied and supported fashion
c) Making a public pledge for how they plan on showing up to this work in themselves, creations and organizations (a la North Star Ethics Pledge)
The landscape is so incredibly vast, it’s almost ludicrous to attempt to distill into a neat package, let alone demand professionals opt in to the massive endeavour. But there is value in providing some frame of reference to help those serious humane technologists to locate themselves, re-politicize their context and orient their personal development journey towards wholeness and harmony with life on Earth.
We will need to experiment for the unique needs of industries and geographies, types of technologist and stages of organization. Curriculum and pedagogy must be informed by the latest philosophy and science of learning and human development, and be delivered in a manner that is most experiential, interpersonal, emotional and embodied. I also imagine communities of practice developing for folks to practice this new way of creating together, since we all have things to learn from each other and require accountability structures to actually do the work.
I want to give a special shout out the crew at JumpScale (one of the organizations I’ve worked with and currently advise) for seeding some of the inspiration for a curriculum that takes an honest look at all relevant dimensions of one’s life and creations. Their Good Clean Well philosophy supports the health and resilience of leaders and teams in achieving long term goals. I like to think of their work as that of a “business healer” or psychotherapist who goes in, finds where the energy is stuck, and helps move it in a way that cascades benefits to all stakeholders.
At the end of the day, we need to set the bar higher for a new generation of technologists who are more well rounded, balanced and responsible than the average person working in tech today.
We need humane technologists who have reverence for all life, rather than just seek to profit from it.
Who know how to move slow and pay attention, rather than just move fast and break things.
Who are willing to challenge underlying assumptions, rather than just follow the conventional wisdom.
Who are in right relationship with self, other, land and whole.
The first round of aspiring humane technologists stumbled around alone in the dark to explore these questions. We must provide a stronger foundation to the next wave, building towards some new form of education that can be replicated and localized. Let’s start emphasizing the need, inviting conversation, experimenting in groups, sharing learnings.
I envision a future in which a variety educational offerings exist for technologists to do their appropriate inner work in a structured, holistic and communal way. Where the path and livelihood of the humane technologist is viewed as courageous, honorable and sacred.
How can we use the power of storytelling to paint humane technologist education as an attractive use of energy, thereby hacking the adult development of those coming into power?
A New Story Of Success
This is exciting! We have a wonderful opportunity to practice and demonstrate a new way together. We have the chance to write new stories. Of what it means to be a good technologist. Of corporate accountability. Of personal and professional success. Inspiring people not out of guilt or ego, but from a higher octave vision of what Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as “Beloved Community” or Charles Eisenstein as “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”
The old story about Silicon Valley success is becoming stale for many and unsustainable for all. We need a new one. That trades off personal financial gain for equitable distribution; power over for power with; isolation for interdependence. One that inspires a generation of minds and hearts to dive into this emerging field.
But how is one supposed to develop all the traditional skills required to be a sharp technologist, AND afford to learn and do all this other stuff time and money-wise?
This is a tall order. Especially if one has caregiving responsibilities, student loans, or other demands on resource. My hope is that cultural and financial barriers will lift for those who are committed to this path, as capital gradually begins to flow into the space and cultural trends around what constitutes a “good life” rapidly shift. While also acknowledging that some amount of trust, risk and creativity is often required to create things that are just and beautiful.
Supportive trends and possibilities include remote work and community living, public sector investment and favorable policy changes, UBI and debt jubilee, new cohorts of regenerative investors and a spirit of reciprocity from beneficiaries of Big Tech gains, accessibility pricing in education, excessive consumption and wealth hoarding becoming increasingly distasteful, young people dropping out of or forgoing traditional college.
The path of the humane technologist is a beautiful one because it provides purpose, self learning, world learning, health, wisdom, community, service, maturation. It’s a context to learn about all these priceless things that make you a more complete human. What is that worth to you? What does your heart yearn for?
I’m not just talking about a sense of pride in doing the right thing. I’m talking about creating connections across lines of difference. Knowing for yourself what is true. Looking at the ugly parts of yourself that you never thought you would touch in this lifetime. Opening to the full spectrum of emotions and textures of the human experience in ineffable moments. Discovering all the ways you were made to contribute to the dance of life. Creating a dream career rich in knowledge, adventure, skills, laughter, strength, generosity, love. Beyond your wildest imagination.
I can vouch. Humane technology has been my greatest teacher. Permissioning me to enroll in a perpetual school of life. A priceless investment in self and career, community and world. And it has only just begun.
Visionary writer Octavia Butler offers:
“All that you touch, You Change.
All that you Change, Changes you.”
How much are you willing to be changed?
If you enjoyed this piece, please consider clapping 👏🏼 (you can clap up to 50 times if you liked it a lot 😂), and sharing with others in your community — whether organization, academic class, tech forum or friend group. Comment on Medium with your reflections!
I’m practicing moving slowly and not trying to thing-ify every idea that fills me with euphoria, in holding myself to a higher standard of embodying the principles I wish to convey. This has led to a winter of several cycles of exploration and stepping away.
In this moment I feel excited about continuing to explore three things:
- Online Course. Building out the curriculum outlined above and running an online training this year for humane technologists. I am open to co-developing this with individuals and/or organizations that share a similar vision. What do you think ought to be in the syllabus?
- Community of Practice. Activating a “Regenerative Creating Circle” for a small group of idea stage founders who are ready to embark on a learning journey together in order to practice creating in a new way. This may involve cycling through some of the course material in #1. More details here.
- Individual Support. Offering personalized coaching and consulting to founders and teams. I am also available to customize retreats in Northern California (this spring) and the New York Area (summer and fall).
- Humane Technologist Fellowship. Creating new pathways for young people to engage with curricula like this, a la the Thiel Fellowship.
If any of the above piques your interest as either a student or collaborator or sponsor, please fill out this form to connect and help shape these offerings in a good way. You may also contact me at andrewmurraydunn at gmail dot com.
Thank you for your trust and attention,
💙☀️ Andrew Murray Dunn
Andrew is a student and teacher at the intersection of humane technology and personal development.
He supports entrepreneurs in crafting Learning Journeys, Impact Plans, Thought Leadership & Personal Retreats.
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Special thanks to the following friends who have provided feedback on this piece: Belinda Liu, Gabi Jubran, AJ Goldstein, Ty Hitzeman