Your Happiness Was Hacked – an interview with Vivek Wadhwa

by Wouter van Noort June 8, 2018

First he was a well-known optimist in Silicon Valley, now Vivek Wadhwa warns against the downsides of technology. “Social media is used as a weapon against ourselves and we are unhappy about it.”

Vivek Wadhwa has made a huge turn in recent years. The legendary entrepreneur, writer and keynote speaker originally made his name as one of the most prominent ‘cheerleaders’ of Silicon Valley. He was closely involved with Singularity University, an almost evangelistic club that has been hammering on the huge promises of the technological revolution in recent years. He taught at Stanford University, the Silicon Valley nursery school, and wrote optimistic books and columns about the future.

Book called Your Happiness Was Hacked

Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain–and How to Fight Back

But his new book has a completely different tone. Your Happiness Was Hacked, which will appear later this month, is a warning for the shadows of our dependence on smartphones and social media.

“I was too optimistic,” he says from San Francisco on the phone. “Technology would solve all problems of humanity. I left Singularity University because I was disappointed with the Kool-Aid they drank. They believe that technology can do no harm. We are at a crossroads: we now have a choice between a great or a dark future. “

You choose a pretty offensive tone in your book.

“The technology industry has taken over all sorts of techniques from the gambling industry. Gambling machines are designed to lure users back every time by giving nice rewards at the right moments. Even if you lose, you think you win. The methods that tech companies use to make us so addicted are based on decades of psychological research in Las Vegas. We continue to check our Facebook, we want to be rewarded, we keep coming back more and more.

“And in the meantime they are harvesting our data. They want to keep us hooked. And the result is that we are becoming more unhappy. People are no longer coming together. The promise of social media was that people would come together en masse. Instead, we now have Trump. Polarization. All kinds of demons have been released through social media that cleave society. “

Apparently, people also have something to do with those social media: they do not come back for nothing, right?

“Facebook uses our own psychology against us. This is comparable with cigarette companies, drug dealers who feed on our weaknesses. Now companies like Facebook also use advanced techniques such as artificial intelligence, to map our weaknesses even better and to exploit them. It goes way too far what they do. “

Heroin is rather useless and almost exclusively harmful, social media and smartphones are not.

“Of course they are useful if they are only used in moderation. I am not against technology, I am a huge fan of tech. But compare it to marijuana rather than with heroin. A little marijuana can have all kinds of positive effects, on your mood, on your health. But if you use too much of it, it can destroy you. People check their smartphone hundreds of times a day. Many spend entire days on social media in search of social confirmation. Social media are now used as a weapon against ourselves, and we become measurably unhappy. “

Are you not focusing too much on the negative aspect? Think of all the beautiful new interactions between people who emerge through social media.

“That’s my whole point. If you use technology well, if you know its boundaries, then it brings beautiful new things. You do not have to throw all your technology out of the window. But we have to learn to deal with it better. “

Google and Apple recently launched initiatives against smartphone addiction. Facebook also takes measures after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. How do you look at that?

“They only respond to public pressure. There is not suddenly a greater awareness among these companies. I know the people behind it, these are PR maneuvers. They are not serious about it, while the problem is deadly serious.

“Much more is needed than what is happening now. Sometimes Google also shows a perplexing lack of awareness about the problems. Take the demonstration last from Google Duplex, a program that can call independent restaurants and barber shops based on artificial intelligence to make appointments. Just scary. At his presentation, Google proudly showed conversations that could not really be distinguished. The person on the other side did not seem to talk to a computer. This can be used in many very bad ways to deceive people. Google did not even seem aware of this risk at the presentation, that says enough. “

What can people do themselves?

“It starts with understanding how these technologies respond to our psychology, and then take steps to reduce our use. You can turn off push messages, make sure that you switch off your smartphone at set times, do not use smartphones before going to bed. There are all sorts of tricks that vary per person, but they can help to become less dependent. “

It is not just an individual problem, is regulation a solution?

“Yes. We cannot let tech companies determine all the rules themselves, because in the end they mainly want to maximize their profits. Should Apple and Google not be required to install a function so that you cannot access your smartphone while you are driving? Should Google, Facebook and Apple no longer do anything to prevent young children becoming addicted to their products? I think it is inevitable that we make good agreements about this through stricter regulation. We are not doing well enough yet. “

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Vivek Wadhwa appointed Harvard Law School Distinguished Fellow

Vivek Wadhwa is rejoining his former colleagues at Harvard Law School to run a critically important research project on the impact of technology on jobs and developing policies to mitigate the dangers.

This is with Richard Freeman, the world renowned labor economist, Sharon Block, who helped key labor policies for the Obama administration, and historian/scholar John Trumpbour. The 3-year project at Harvard’s Labor and Worklife program will bring together a who’s who to analyze new data on automation and jobs and to brainstorm on policy.

Vivek will still be teaching a 12-credit course at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering and will continue to work closely on CMU projects.

This project at Harvard is important because with the present course of technology, we are headed directly into the dystopia of Mad Max. Most people don’t understand how fast things are changing and how ugly the transition will be when cars and trucks begin to drive themselves, machines do the work of manufacturing and delivery, and AIs take over most skilled jobs.

What makes things worse is that the people creating the technologies want us to believe that as tens of millions of jobs disappear over the next two decades, new ones will be created—and we will magically re-employ the people who have been displaced. Others tout a mystical solution: Universal Basic Income, a handout that governments provide to everyone which solves the social and economic problems of joblessness. The reality may very well be something completely different.  Are we ready for an outcome where few jobs created and and the resulting despair?

Vivek have long been worried about this, and explained the central issues in a series of articles: We’re heading into a jobless future, no matter what the government doesSorry, but the jobless future isn’t a luddite fallacy,  We need a new version of capitalism for the jobless future,  Love of learning is the key to success in the jobless future,  What we’ll encounter on the path to the jobless future, and Ray Kurzweil on the future workforce (a debate Ray Kurzweil and I had in 2012—which triggered my deep concerns).  He also discussed this issue with Paul Solman on PBS NewsHour: Are we on the brink of a jobless future? and on BigThink: What Will Your Life Be Like in 2027?

Vivek Wadhwa is Distinguished Fellow and professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and a leading keynote speaker on technology and the future.   A globally syndicated technology columnist for the Washington Post and co-author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future, Wadhwa researches how exponentially advancing technologies are transforming the world, including in the fields of artificial intelligence, medicine, nanomaterials, robotics, quantum computing, synthetic biology, and 3-D printing. In 2012, Foreign Policy named him one of the world’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, while in 2013 Time magazine placed him on the Tech 40, the list of the forty most influential minds in technology.


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One of the keys to great leadership is making great decisions. In a world with increasing complexity, we need to understand how the mind works, why people stray towards bad decisions, and what skills and systems you can use to make great leadership choices in the future.

In fact, advanced tools, from big data, predictive analytics, genomics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other technologies have made it possible to pinpoint future results with mind-blowing accuracy—cracking the door to what Rebecca Costa calls predaptation: the ability to adapt before the fact.

Rebecca Costa experience is amazing…business executive, scientist, bestselling author, radio host.  She is a thought-leader who has that rare gift of making tough-to-tackle issues and make them fun and interesting to explore.

Learn more about keynote speaker Rebecca Costa at www.nextup-now.com/rebecca-costa.html