Geek heresy: Rescuing social change from the cult of technology

Kentaro Toyama

Session Information

Year: 2017 | Time: 9:00am-10:15am (Keynote) | Location: Johnson Center (Dewberry Hall)

Abstract

Kentaro Toyama was a self-described “technoholic” and award-winning computer scientist whose research paved the way for cutting-edge products like Microsoft’s Kinect. In 2004, he co-founded Microsoft Research India, and he set his mind to design electronic inventions to improve education, agriculture, health care, and governance in the developing world’s poorest communities. What Toyama experienced in India, though, shook his faith in technology. 

At a school outside Bangalore, Toyama saw computers locked away in a dusty cabinet because teachers didn’t know what to do with them. Mobile-phone projects to disseminate health information routinely failed. “Telecenters” intended to teach rural farmers better agriculture devolved into places for sleazy web surfing. Meanwhile back in the United States, Silicon Valley executives who evangelize novel technologies at work sent their children to Waldorf schools that ban electronics. And, four decades of incredible innovation have done nothing to turn the tide of increasing poverty and inequality. Why then, do we keep hoping that technology will solve our greatest social challenges? In this talk, Toyama inoculates us against the rhetoric of digital utopians and reinvigorates us with a genuinely human paradigm for social change. A heretic among technologists, Toyama is uniquely able to reveal why social progress depends on human changes that gadgets just can’t deliver. He provides a fierce critique and a heartwarming reminder that it’s human wisdom, not machines, that move our world forward. 

Keywords

well-being; mindfulness; digital tools

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