Magic, Ethics and Your Facebook Newsfeed

I spent the morning listening to what is probably one of the most interesting and insightful conversations I've heard all year. It comes from Sam Harris' Waking Up podcast, which I listen to religiously (#IronyAlert). 

His guest is the former "Design Ethicist" for Google, Tristan Harris (no relation). Much to my surprise, it turns out Tristan is also a former magician, and as they discuss, those insights actively inform his work. 

Magic is probably one of the most efficient tools for probing the limits of our perception. It serves as a nice intellectual sharp stick to poke people out of their complacency. Of particular relevance to this discussion of ethics and the many ways in which our devices and apps manipulate us — usually without our knowledge, but this is something many want to change — is the way that an individual can feel that they are making decisions while someone else is actually making the decisions for you. Now it's even worse, because the decisions are being made by a black-box artificial intelligence whose decisions and motivations are opaque to you. 

Given the amount of time we spend glued to these devices and services, it's difficult to overestimate the importance of conversations like this one: 

Or, the YouTube version which is still really just audio: