Two or three years ago I was at a posh café finishing off a glass of wine when a family chose a nearby table. The daughters may have been 9 and 11, the parents middle-aged. Without a word, they all pulled out their cell phones as soon as they were seated. Five or six minutes later, I closed my notebook, paid the bill, and left. Except for placing their order with the server, they had been gazing attentively at their phones in silence the entire time. This saddened me.
It wasn’t until I watched “The Social Dilemma” that my eyes were opened to the power of Alternative Intelligence (AI) and its central role in determining the user experience on social media platforms. This documentary, produced by Netflix in 2020, shines a light on social media’s deliberate use of manipulation, seduction, and perhaps hypnosis (in the broadest sense of the word) to entice people to spend ever-increasing chunks of time on social media. Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms have programmed algorithms to use their own intelligence to refine their capacity to track the clicks and choices of online users and tailor the user’s experience based upon this data. The algorithms have the power to establish new algorithms if new ones are needed in order to ramp up the time people spend on the platform. The intelligence of these algorithms stems entirely from mathematical logic and rational thinking.
Consequently, over time the programming of social media will become increasingly adept at manipulation, seduction, and hijacking the user’s mind and appetites. These platforms will become increasingly successful at keeping the users in their ponds and more successful at giving the advertiser an effective “fishing rod.” This trajectory has been established and will continue unless those who created the algorithms courageously step in and make AI less powerful and less invasive. (Invasive? The social media platforms reach into the brain’s stem cells.)
Some proponents of technology presume that humans should always strive to create the most powerful technology possible. Or the smartest, most intelligent AI possible. Some advocates of AI believe it is in the best interest of all for AI to become smarter than the smartest human mind.
I am asking, “At what cost?” “The Social Dilemma” makes a case for a connection between the sudden sharp rise in the rates of teenage girls committing suicide since 2011 and the rise in time spent on social media platforms.
To give AI free reign to affect the world is to overlook the centrality of the heart’s role in enriching our lives. AI is unable to revise its functioning or its own “thought patterns” or make adjustments or refinements based upon considerations that stem from the heart’s wisdom and the power of discernment. the algorithms used by social media today will inevitably become increasingly enmeshed in logic and rationality unless humans intervene.
Do we want to prize intelligence without wisdom and discernment? When rationality and logic are not balanced by the heart, are we not lost? Does this not interfere with our access to compassion and tenderness? Wouldn’t’ it be fair to say that algorithms have been programmed to appeal to the lower aspects of humans—that they create a user experience that keeps us stuck in our lower selves rather than making progress toward discovering our gifts and our capacity for self-mastery?
Some employees of social media platforms do not allow their children to access social media. We are living in a world where more men and women are getting in touch with their fierce inner mother bear when the well-being of their own cubs is at stake. I look forward to the day when we will all hear the mother bear within us growling, calling us to protect all cubs everywhere, asking us to see all children as equal and to know that all are related to us in the family of humans.
In her book The Answer Is Simple, Sonia Choquette described the wise heart as “the universal heart—the aspect of self-love that moves away from the personal “I” and sees you as part of a greater whole, the human race.”
Unlike the foolish heart, the heart that reacts to circumstances and, to use Choquette’s words, “surrenders all genuine personal spiritual power over to whims and adrenaline of the moment,” the wise heart cares about the consequences of choices.
The wise heart is the doorway to honoring the dignity of each human. The algorithms are unable to do so and consequently, social media dehumanizes the person who shows up. Christopher Columbus and his comrades were also unable or unwilling to honor the dignity of each human and consequently dehumanized the indigenous people they encountered. The wise heart does not assume that domination is desirable.
When two parents are divorcing, if they both have wise hearts, they will do whatever is required to support the children’s relationship with the other parent—each parent will want the children’s relationship with both parents to flourish. The wise heart wants what is best fr everyone. Had Columbus began with a desire for the best possible outcome for those he encountered when he arrived at the new continent, domination would have had no soil to take root in.
The wise heart is a sign of maturity and the foolish heart a sign of immaturity. In light of these distinctions between the wise and foolish heart, the question we need to answer is this: Is humanity mature enough to be trusted to use AI is wise ways? Further, we need to ask, “Is corporate greed leading to the creation of algorithms from the foolish heart, the heart that reacts and is pulled by whims and fears of lack, the heart that wears blinders that blot out the question of what is for the highest good of all?” This sort of question can help us to rise above self-deception—the self-deception encouraged by beliefs that we must obey the requirements of capitalism instead of creating the new.
However mature humanity may or may not be, I am calling on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to care about the consequences of hijacking the minds of teenagers and to be guided by this caring in making revisions to the programming without delay. The time has come for us to live a principle-centered life, to borrow Stephen Covey’s term, rather than catering to corporate greed. We are all capable of blazing a trail that leads to the creation of a bright and glorious world when we listen to our hearts and discern what’s best for humanity.
This post is republished on Medium.