Automating Humanity: Joe Toscano
This month at Camp David, we partnered with powerHouse Books to host an evening of eye-opening conversation with Joe Toscano, author of Automating Humanity.
Formerly an award-winning Experience Design Consultant for Google, Toscano stepped away from his role due to ethical concerns in 2017. With his recently launched book and the start of the Better Ethics and Consumer Outcome Network, he now delivers a warning to policymakers, civilians, and industry professionals alike: we need a strategy for the future, and we need it now. We sat down with the author to ask a few questions of our own.
• • •
WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY?
Nebraska, the place you would least expect. Omaha suburbs, one mile from the middle of nowhere.
WHAT IS YOUR PRACTICE?
By trade I’m an experience designer. I started my career as a developer, but I realized over time that I was coding the systems that were going to take my job so I switched to design. I’ve made my career running in the middle– I can speak to developers and engineers, understand the needs and translate that into a design that doesn’t waste time on what’s impossible.
WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT THAT MADE YOU WANT TO WRITE AUTOMATING HUMANITY?
I was a consultant for Google with a company called RGA– a Global intelligence design product agency. In a year we saw 20 different projects while the average worker [at Google] maybe works on one product for 2 or 3 years before it sees the world. I saw how they communicated with each other, saw the long term, big picture, the entire industry. It was enlightening and great, but also thought provoking in the sense that maybe we should think about these things a little bit deeper before we move forward so fast. I stepped out in June 2017 to talk about these issues with the public and to bring this to light in a way people could speak about and understand. While I do want automation to happen, and I do believe it’s the future, I also think there are some issues we need to deal with that are fundamental to human life. That’s what the books is about.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
At the baseline, we have to think about the fact that computers are an extension of our mind. We are no longer in the physical labor era. We’re building lighting fast technologies out of already lighting fast technologies, so the rate of return is exponential.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS OR CONCERNS FOR THIS RAPID PACE?
Addiction, which we already see in the mainstream. Job Loss, which is in the mainstream conversation but not nearly as well understood. Social Engineering, which is the ability to own data in a way that controls marketplaces and entire communities.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR OWN TECH ADDICTIONS?
I don’t have Facebook or snapchat, or any other social media app besides Instagram on my phone. I’m only notified for emails, phone calls, and text messages, that’s it. I have friends who go grayscale on their phones and I’m sure it works well but I like to see the color. It’s about finding the right balance for you.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED?
My friend in grad school was having his second kid, and I said “I don’t think I’ll have kids because I’ll never be ready.” He said, “you’ll never be ready for anything that comes at you, you just do it.” I was never ready for this book to happen, but it’s great that I’m living it. That’s one of the best pieces of advice, stop planning start living.
DO YOU DREAM EVERY NIGHT?
Not often. I don’t sleep a lot anymore, it’s tough being on the road.
THREE FAVORITE READS:
Understanding comics, The intelligent Investor, and Anyone can design, which is a very basic design book meant to show people that design is not about making pretty things.
• • •