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Tristan Harris

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Tristan Harris
Harris during the Collision Conference at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, 2018
Born1983 or 1984 (age 39–40)
EducationStanford University (BS)
WebsiteOfficial website

Tristan Harris (/trɪsˈtɑːn/; born 1983/1984)[1] is an American technology ethicist. He is the executive director and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology.[2][3]

Early in his career, Harris worked as a design ethicist at Google.[4] He received his Bachelor degree from Stanford University, where he studied computer science.[5]

Harris has appeared in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. The film features Harris and other former tech employees explaining how the design of social media platforms nurtures addiction to maximize profit and manipulates people's views, emotions, and behavior. The film also examines social media's effect on mental health, particularly of adolescents.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Harris was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He studied computer science at Stanford University while interning at Apple Inc. He then embarked on a master's degree at Stanford with a focus on Human–Computer Interaction, where he took a class from B. J. Fogg, who runs the Persuasive Technology Lab, before dropping out.[7][1] At Stanford, Harris was classmates with one of Instagram's founders, Kevin Systrom, and helped create a demo app with the other founder, Mike Krieger.[8]


In 2007, Harris launched a startup called Apture.[8][9][10] Google acquired Apture in 2011, and Harris ended up working on Google Inbox.[1]

In February 2013, while working at Google, Harris authored a presentation titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention”, which he shared with coworkers. In that presentation, he suggested that Google, Apple and Facebook should "feel an enormous responsibility" to make sure humanity doesn't spend its days buried in a smartphone.[11] The 141-slide deck was eventually viewed by tens of thousands of Google employees and sparked conversations about the company's responsibilities long after he left the company.[11][12] Harris holds several patents from his previous work at Apple, Wikia, Apture, and Google.[13]

Harris left Google in December 2015 to co-found the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization Time Well Spent, later called the Center for Humane Technology.[1][14] Through his work at CHT, Harris hoped to re-align technology with humanity's best interest. He asserted that human minds can be hijacked and the choices they make are not as free as they think they are.[15]

At CHT, Harris has advocated for understanding and minimizing the negative impacts of digital technologies. In 2017, he spoke on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper about the addictive design of smartphone apps.[16] At a 2019 presentation in San Francisco,[17] he coined the phrase "human downgrading" to describe an interconnected system of mutually reinforcing harms—addiction, distraction, isolation, polarization, fake news—that weakens human capacity, in order to capture human attention.[18]

Harris and other CHT team members were interviewed for the film The Social Dilemma, distributed by Netflix. In it he says, "Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people"[19][20] about the harms of social media.[21][22][23]

CHT offers an online course on how to build humane and ethical technology, called The Foundations of Humane Technology, which has received notable media coverage. [24]

In recent years, Harris has expanded his focus from the attention economy to close the gap between the accelerating pace of technology and risks/externalities it creates, compared to the capacity of culture and its institutions to respond and adequately guard against them. Harris and CHT call this "The Wisdom Gap."[25]

The Atlantic stated in its November 2016 issue that "Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience."[1] Since then, he has been named on Time 100 Next Leaders Shaping 2021,[26] Rolling Stone’s 25 People Changing the Future, and Fortune’s 25 Ideas that Will Change the Future. He is also the co-host of the podcast, Your Undivided Attention.[27]

Media and other activities[edit]

At the TEDTalk 2017 conference, Harris exposed how a handful of tech companies are able to manipulate billions of people to generate billions of dollars in ad revenue.[28] He implored his peers to be more conscious and ethical in shaping the human spirit and human potential through technology. The foundation of his presentation was the Time Well Spent thesis.[29] Time Well Spent was quickly adopted by tech industry giants Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google through the addition of features designed to encourage users to monitor their time online.

Harris continued his advocacy for tech reform. In 2019, the New York Times published his op-ed, "Our Brains Are No Match for Our Technology."[30] In the same year, Harris's thoughts were featured on Fortune’s 25 Ideas that Will Shape the 2020s, alongside world leaders such as Melinda Gates and Malala Yousafzai.[31]

Harris has testified before the United States Congress on multiple occasions. In 2019, Harris gave testimony at the United States Senate's hearing on Optimizing for Engagement: Understanding the Use of Persuasive Technology on Internet Platforms.[32] In 2020, he testified in the House hearing on Americans at Risk: Manipulation and Deception in the Digital Age.[33]

In 2021, Harris provided testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law on data privacy and how algorithms are able to influence people's choices and effectively change their minds. In his testimony, Harris encouraged lawmakers and social media designers to reset their criteria for success. According to Harris, "Instead of evaluating whether my fellow Facebook, Twitter and YouTube panelists have improved their content policies or hired more content moderators, we should ask what would collectively constitute a 'humane' Western digital democratic infrastructure that would strengthen our capacity to meet these threats."[34]

In October 2022, Harris joined the Council for Responsible Social Media project launched by Issue One to address the negative mental, civic, and public health impacts of social media in the United States co-chaired by former House Democratic Caucus Leader Dick Gephardt and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey.[35][36]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bosker, Bianca. "What Will Break People's Addictions to Their Phones?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  2. ^ "Center for Humane Technology: Most Innovative Company | Fast Company". Fast Company. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
  3. ^ "Tech workers can help to police their employers". Financial Times. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
  4. ^ Girish, Devika (2020-09-09). "'The Social Dilemma' Review: Unplug and Run". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  5. ^ "When Tech Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself". WIRED. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  6. ^ Orlowski, Jeff (September 9, 2020), The Social Dilemma (Documentary, Drama), Tristan Harris, Jeff Seibert, Bailey Richardson, Joe Toscano, Exposure Labs, Argent Pictures, The Space Program, retrieved October 28, 2020
  7. ^ "The Magic of Persuasive Design". Stanford eCorner. Retrieved 2021-04-13.
  8. ^ a b "Apture Highlights Brings Instantaneous Search To Any Web Page". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2021-04-04.
  9. ^ "Google Buys Contextual Rich News Browsing Startup Apture To Beef Up Chrome". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  10. ^ Harris, Tristan (2018-11-17). "Tristan Harris on LinkedIn". LinkedIn.
  11. ^ a b Haselton, Todd (2018-05-10). "Google employee warned in 2013 about five psychological weaknesses that could be used to hook users". CNBC. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  12. ^ Newton, Casey (2018-05-10). "Google's new focus on well-being started five years ago with this presentation". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  13. ^ "Patents by Inventor Tristan Harris". Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  14. ^ "Google's new focus on well-being started five years ago with this presentation". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  15. ^ Lewis, Paul (2017-10-06). "'Our minds can be hijacked': the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  16. ^ Cooper, Anderson (2017-04-09). "What is "brain hacking"? Tech insiders on why you should care". 60 Minutes.
  17. ^ "How Technology is "Downgrading Humans" (Tristan Harris X Capgemini)". YouTube.
  18. ^ "Tech is Downgrading Humans". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  19. ^ Girish, Devika (2020-09-09). "'The Social Dilemma' Review: Unplug and Run". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  20. ^ "Tristan Harris – Congressional Hearing". January 8, 2020.
  21. ^ Collins, Terry (April 27, 2021). "'We're trying to solve a problem here': Senate takes Facebook, YouTube, Twitter to task over 'addictive' algorithms". USA Today.
  22. ^ Neidig, Harper (June 25, 2019). "Senators spar with Google exec over use of 'persuasive technology'". The Hill.
  23. ^ Hinchliffe, Tim (April 27, 2021). "Big tech's addictive business model makes us 'attention vampires,' distracts from urgent threats like China: 'Social Dilemma' star testifies". The Sociable.
  24. ^ Foundation's Humane Technology Online course for Silicon Valley, Wired magazine.
  25. ^ "Can We Close the Gap Between Humans and Technology? | Tristan Harris - SXSW 2022" – via www.youtube.com.
  26. ^ "2021 TIME100 Next: Tristan Harris". Time.
  27. ^ "Your Undivided Attention". Center for Humane Technology. Retrieved September 27, 2023.
  28. ^ Harris, Tristan (July 26, 2017). "How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day" – via www.ted.com.
  29. ^ Newton, Casey (January 17, 2018). "'Time well spent' is shaping up to be tech's next big debate". The Verge.
  30. ^ Harris, Tristan (December 5, 2019). "Opinion | Our Brains Are No Match for Our Technology" – via NYTimes.com.
  31. ^ "25 Ideas That Will Shape the 2020s". Fortune.
  32. ^ "Tristan Harris - US Senate June 25, 2019" – via www.youtube.com.
  33. ^ "Hearing on "Americans at Risk: Manipulation and Deception in the Digital Age"". Democrats, Energy and Commerce Committee. January 8, 2020.
  34. ^ "Written Statement of Tristan Harris" (PDF). United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law Algorithms and Amplification: How Social Media Platforms’ Design Choices Shape Our Discourse and Our Minds. April 27, 2021. Retrieved August 29, 2022.
  35. ^ Feiner, Lauren (October 12, 2022). "Facebook whistleblower, former defense and intel officials form group to fix social media". CNBC. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  36. ^ "Council for Responsible Social Media – Issue One". issueone.org. Retrieved October 12, 2022.

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