The Case for (Temporarily) Unplugging A.I.

Tristan Harris, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Humane Technology.
Tristan Harris, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Humane Technology. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Earlier this month, I boarded The Scarlet Lady, a 900 foot, 17-deck cruise ship off the coast of Miami, with 2,500 other conference-goers, to take part in Summit at Sea, a floating creative festival slash personal development gathering. I’ve been a part of the Summit community since 2012, having attended and spoken at many events over the past decade. The cruise is usually a laid back event, offering yoga, meditation, and lectures on everything from cutting-edge medical tech to psychedelics, along with meetups for environmentalists and web3 enthusiasts. 

Summit at Sea is part TED conference, part art festival. This year, Gina Belafonte opened the event with a tribute to her father, the late, great Harry Belafonte. Later, I was scheduled to talk about my podcast, How to Citizen; engage in a public conversation about intergenerational leadership and democracy with Thanasi Dilos, co-founder of CivicsUnplugged (disclosure: I serve on the board); and introduce my friend Dr. Sam Rader, who led a workshop on shedding negative lifelong patterns. It’s an eclectic gathering, to say the least. 

So it was no surprise that artificial intelligence, the buzziest buzzword in the zeitgeist right now, featured prominently. There were a handful of informal meetups on the topic, and it was ever-present in conversations in line for coffee, or waiting for a drink at the bar. But the most anticipated A.I. event was a talk prepared by Tristan Harris, the eminent technology ethicist, and his colleague Aza Raskin, both co-founders of the Center for Humane Technology. They had prepared an updated version of their talk titled, “The A.I. Dilemma,” a version of which you can find on YouTube, from March, although it’s already out of date. Frankly, so is the version that I saw live, just over a week ago. That’s how fast this technological revolution is developing.