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Big Tech’s Crisis of Conscience

The Esalen Institute is a retreat center founded in 1962 and is a three-hour drive south of San Francisco. In the 1960’s this is where Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary enjoyed “drug-induced mysticism” and Ravi Shankar taught George Harrison a sitar lesson.

Co-founder Michael Murphy calls it a laboratory for new thought: “Our whole intention is allow people to get … into the business of discovering truth. That could be a timeless spiritual truth, or the ethical truth of how we ought to behave in society.”

Nearby Silicon Valley attracts many of the attendees, which includes executives from Apple, Google, Twitter, Airbnb, Intel and Xerox. There is a collective concern in Silicon Valley that their hopes and dreams for technology haven’t exactly worked out. The institute’s C.E.O. Ben Tauber lamented in 2017: “There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognize that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place. The C.E.O.s, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.”

The Institute holds conferences with names like “Responsible Tech and Wisdom 2.0.” They asking profound questions like: ‘How should we make sure we’re ethical about exercising this control over people’s brains?’”

Source: Andrew Marantz, “Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience,” The New Yorker (8-19-19)

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