Tristan Harris

Tristan Harris (/trɪsˈtɑːn/), is an American computer scientist and businessperson. He is the president and a co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology.[2][3] Earlier, he worked as a design ethicist at Google.[4] He received his degree from Stanford, where he studied the ethics of human persuasion.[5]

Tristan Harris
Tristan Harris at Collision Conf 2018 (cropped).jpg
Harris at the Collision Conference in 2018 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans
Born1984 (age 36–37)[1]
Alma materStanford University

Early life and educationEdit

He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by a single mother. He graduated from Sonoma Country Day School in Santa Rosa, CA. Later on, he studied computer science at Stanford University while interning at Apple Inc., then embarked on a master's degree in psychology at Stanford, where he took a class from B. J. Fogg, who runs Persuasive Technology Lab; Harris was not a member of this lab, though he claimed to be so in The Social Dilemma.[6][1] Tristan was classmates with one of Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom, and helped create a demo app with the other founder, Mike Krieger.[7] In 2007, Harris dropped out of the master's program at Stanford.[1]


In 2007, Harris launched a startup called Apture, which was focused on bringing instantaneous email to Tristan's inbox.[8][9] 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 he titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention”, which he shared with a handful of his coworkers. In that presentation, Harris suggested that Google, Apple and Facebook should “feel an enormous responsibility” to make sure humanity doesn't spend its days buried in a smartphone.[10] 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.[10][11] Harris holds several patents from his previous work at Apple, Wikia, Apture, and Google.[12]

Harris left Google in December 2015 to co-found a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization called Time Well Spent, now called the Center for Humane Technology.[1][13] Through the Center, Harris hoped to mobilize support for an alternative built around core values at tech corporations, chief of which is helping us spend our time well, instead of demanding more of it. Harris asserts that all human minds can be hijacked and the choices they make are not as free as they think they are.[14] The Atlantic stated in their November 2016 issue that “Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.”[1]

At the Center, Harris has been a vocal proponent of understanding and minimizing the negative impacts of digital technologies. In 2017, he spoke on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper about the "brain hacking" of smartphone apps, comparing their addictive design to that of a slot machine.[15] At a 2019 presentation in San Francisco, he coined the phrase "human downgrading" to describe the interconnected system of mutually reinforcing harms—addiction, distraction, isolation, polarization, fake news—that weakens human capacity, caused by technology platforms with the extractive business model to capture human attention.[7]

Harris was the primary subject of 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."[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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. ^ Barber, Phil. "Santa Rosa native Tristan Harris takes on Big Tech in Netflix documentary 'The Social Dilemma'". Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  7. ^ a b "Tech is Downgrading Humans". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Google Buys Contextual Rich News Browsing Startup Apture To Beef Up Chrome". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  9. ^ Harris, Tristan (2018-11-17). "Tristan Harris on LinkedIn". LinkedIn.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Patents by Inventor Tristan Harris". Retrieved 2021-03-04.
  13. ^ "Google's new focus on well-being started five years ago with this presentation". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-11-17.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Cooper, Anderson (2017-04-09). "What is "brain hacking"? Tech insiders on why you should care". 60 Minutes.
  16. ^ Girish, Devika (2020-09-09). "'The Social Dilemma' Review: Unplug and Run". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-13.

External linksEdit