6 Big Problems with Big Tech

The Case for Humane Technology

Rafa Ballestiero
7 min readJan 27, 2023

What’s the one thing every single unicorn has in common?

A bunch of unicorns that all look the same.


In the global Monopoly board of Venture Capital, Disruption is the name of the game. Companies like Gorillas, Uber and WeWork have disrupted their respective industries, but their impact extends far beyond just shaking up the markets.

The rapid pace of technological advancement has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives, and the truth is, we are struggling to keep up with the changes it brings.

The real problem of humanity is the following: we have palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology.

Dr. E.O. Wilson, the father of sociobiology and “Darwin’s natural heir”

As a society, and as individuals, we are utterly unprepared to keep up with the complexity and rapid pace of today’s technologies. In certain cases, that’s by design. The extractive approach to technology that prioritizes profit over people has become the norm.

Although we are the “users”, we are often the ones being used. Extractive technologies cause the worst types of disruptions:

  • 👤 For individuals, they disrupt our innate ability to focus and stay mindful by exploiting our biases, keeping us addicted and anxious.
  • 🏛 For societies, they disrupt our democracies and our shared understanding by exacerbating inequalities and amplifying tribalism.
  • 🌍 For the planet, they disrupt our global biosphere and ecosystems by perpetuating over-consumption and neglecting externalities.

It’s time for a shift towards a more ethical approach that puts the needs and well-being of individuals and society at the forefront, rather than using us for profit.

Humane Technology

The Humane Technology movement, led by the Center For Humane Technology, offers an alternative to extractive technologies by focusing on enhancing our human ability to solve problems, rather than solely relying on technology itself to solve them for us.

The differences between Extractive & Humane tech.

Disclaimer: This article is my interpretation of an online course by the Center for Humane Technology, and should not be taken as gospel truth. Think of it more like your drunk friend at a party trying to tell you about the latest TED Talk they watched. I highly recommend you checking out the MOOC for yourself and forming your own opinions.

👀 Attention & Focus

Humane technology is designed to respect our attention by politely requesting it only when absolutely necessary.

Extractive technologies are like needy children: they’re constantly demanding our attention. They send you useless notifications willy-nilly (looking at you, LinkedIn).

Thanks, LinkedIn. Super useful stuff.

The small distractions caused by notifications might seem insignificant in the moment, but they’ve tend to decimate our productivity at work. In the the long term, notifications have significantly reduced our attention span and damaged our ability to focus.

🧍 Human Nature

Humane technology protects our inherent vulnerabilities and cognitive biases. As humans, we have many, many, maaany cognitive biases that are exploited by extractive technologies to maximize engagement (i.e. profit).

The Cognitive Bias Codex, by

Extractive tech borrows tactics straight from casinos to keep us hooked, consuming content in a zombie-like trance. Instagram’s infinite scroll is no different than a slot machine, except it doesn’t just “stay in Vegas”. It’s always at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere.

🏭 Negative Externalities

Humane technology is designed to prioritize ethical and economic systems that address problematic externalities that are normally neglected, such as pollution from over-consumption or the mental health crisis.

No technology is designed perfectly from the get-go; not even a humane one. It’s up to the organization that builds it to address the ethical challenges that inevitably arise as it scales.

An inclusive, fairer and resilient gig-economy through co-op platforms.

Cooperatives are a proven organizational structure for businesses to address ethical challenges by including and empowering all stakeholders in decision-making, not just shareholders. Trebor Scholz’s ideas on applying this model to digital platforms are fascinating.

🏛 Democracy

Humane technology is designed to foster trust, empathy, and civic discourse, which are essential for democratic processes to function effectively.

It’s no secret that democracies are literally under attack. The latest attempted insurrection in my native Brazil, on January 8th, 2023, is a case-in-point. It echoes the attacks on the US Capitol two years earlier, almost to the day. The similarities don’t end there. Both tragedies stem from the deep-seated tribalism and relentless disinformation campaigns amplified through social media since the early days of Trumpism.

Despite being aware of the issue, extractive social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter have not taken significant action to tackle mass disinformation and dismantle echo chambers, especially outside of the US. And, it’s not just social media; Google is in on it too.

Platforms should be transparent about their content moderation decisions, prevent dangerous disinformation from going viral and avoid unsafe products being offered on marketplaces.

Margrethe Vestager, Vice President of the European Commission

Last year, the E.U. took some action to regulate these platforms in the form the Digital Services Act (DSA). This new law is “intended to address social media’s societal harms by requiring companies to more aggressively police their platforms for illicit content or risk billions of dollars in fines,” according to the New York Times. There are valid concerns over how effectively the E.U.’s proposed small team can enforce these new laws.

💰 Inequality Gap

Humane technology is designed to narrow rising inequality gaps by reducing excessive automation and promoting algorithmic transparency and fairness.

Humane technology protects workers and enhances their ability to solve problems. Extractive technology, on the other hand, replaces workers altogether for more efficiently, yet less resilient solutions. According to Daron Acemoglu, an economist from MIT, there’s evidence that “excessive automation” is responsible for half or more of the increase in wage gap in the United States in recent decades.

Another way extractive technology worsens socioeconomic inequalities is through AI bias. Consider the use of AI for loan applications in a bank.

If the algorithm used to make lending decisions is trained on data from predominantly white and male applicants, it may be less likely to approve loan applications from women and people of color.

This is because the algorithm may have learned to associate certain characteristics, such as a lower income or a less prestigious educational background, with a higher risk of default, even though these characteristics may be more common among marginalized groups. As a result, these marginalized groups may be disproportionately denied access to credit, widening existing social and economic inequalities.

Humane technology addresses this problem by promoting algorithmic transparency and fairness, which allows for a more equitable distribution of loans and helps to narrow economic and social inequalities.

🔐 Privacy

Humane technology is designed to give you control over your data and privacy, keeping it secure and respecting your right to privacy.

Both Facebook and Google are platforms that don’t require any upfront payment, but that doesn’t mean they are free. We pay for our use with data. Although the services are different, their revenue model is the same: targeted advertisement. These extractive Tech Goliaths have built their empire by sharing our data, often without our consent, for marketers to reach us anywhere, anytime.

The winds that have propelled them are slowly shifting. There’s a soft breeze coming from Europe, with regulators trying to reign in the power of Big Tech with laws such as GDPR and DSA. It’s a sign of progress, but our regulatory systems are incapable of keeping up with the pace of technological growth.

So, what can you do about this?

For starters, everyone can a look at the Center For Humane Technology’s awesome resource: Take Control Toolkit. It’s a great collection of tips and tricks to change your approach to technology and take control back from the extractive technologies in your life.

If you are a technologist, you can have a lot of impact by taking their online course, or by reading my future posts compiling the lessons I took away from it.

If you want to humane alternatives to specific apps and products (like browsers, email clients, etc.), check out the Ethical Alternatives & Resources from

If you enjoyed the read (and have a Medium account), I’d love it if you could leave a couple of claps. I know, I know, it’s the cringiest thing in the world to ask for “claps” (I feel like a seal), but it does make my day when I get that little notification 😁



Rafa Ballestiero

Published in Bootcamp | Mindful Tech & Behavior Science | Co-founder @ Behale |