Mostly Human

with Laurie Segall

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MOSTLY HUMAN: Season 1, Episode 6

Electric Sheep

"Have you ever thought about the startup nature of God's redemptive plan? The original startup!"

It's Sunday near San Francisco's Dolores Park, and pastor Adam Smallcombe is chanting in front of a church crowd. Employees from companies like Apple, Lyft and Airbnb call out in agreement as they wave their phones in the air, screens lighting up the dimly lit room.

At first glance, it seems out of place. In a community where code is religion, God often takes a backseat.

There was a voyeurism associated with the list and who was on it.

But Smallcombe's church, called Vive, is capitalizing on a larger trend: Silicon Valley's soul searching and a growing desire for stillness in a hyper-connected world.

It's a moment of reckoning for the entrepreneurs who have led us full force into the future. As they grapple with technology's impact and their own relationship to it, many are taking a step back.

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Attend a party in the Bay Area, and there's a good chance the conversation will turn to utopia versus dystopia and how technology could take us either way. Just this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella cited the unintended consequences of technology and called on developers to take ownership of their algorithms. Elon Musk has openly warned of the dangers of artificial intelligence even as he depends on it for Tesla's self-driving cars.

The ethos of Silicon Valley has always been to connect the world. But the same products that bring people together can also amplify divisions and tear people apart.

Algorithms have divided us even further, says psychologist and data scientist Michal Kosinski. 'He uses Facebook's recent issues with fake news as an example. The problem, he says, is rooted in artificial intelligence.'

She misses her husband most in the mornings. He would start making coffee after his run.

He says AI is analyzing users' behavior, trying to figure out how to maximize the time they spend in front of the monitor. But without being given specific instructions on how to achieve the goal, there are negative side effects.

"AI recognized the types of news that people click on and then discuss. [The] algorithm was like, 'Hey, great, users are now spending even more time on Facebook, so why don't I show them more fake news?' and suddenly people start getting biased information." Kosinski says.

In February, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a 6,000 word manifesto addressing the criticism and laying out plans to use artificial intelligence to combat fake news and so-called filter bubbles.

But while some tech companies grapple with how to evolve their products, other entrepreneurs are reevaluating technology at its core.

We all find a way to convolute the world and tell ourselves a story that makes us seem honest.

"I do feel like there is a rethinking that's happening now after the recent presidential elections that I didn't see happening before," said Soren Gordhamer, who runs a mindfulness conference called Wisdom 2.0. "There is a shadow side that the technology community has not wanted to look at."

Gordhamer has become a fixture in the growing mindfulness movement -- a trend toward self-reflection and being present in the moment. His conference and silent meditation retreats gather hundreds of employees from companies like Twitter and Apple.

"There's this hunger that's arising in the tech world," Gordhamer said. "How do I live digitally connected, and still be present for the people that I love?"

He recently hosted a mindfulness meetup at a large tech company that brought together entrepreneurs, technologists, designers and engineers who want to connect offline.

There was a meditation exercise and talk of how decisions made in Silicon Valley -- by people in the room -- impact those all around the world.

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Many people who came to the meetup have spent thousands of hours designing products to be as addictive as possible. They're now rethinking that approach.

"Any time you're looking at your phone, it's actually controlling you as much as you are controlling it," said Scott Dunlap, who spent the first part of his career as a product manager, helping tech companies increase users.

He says there's a reason why we get notifications at certain times of the day, or why app developers use words like "hey" instead of "hello."

"It's not 'Hello, Scott,' it's 'Hey Scott' -- not a colon, not anything else. We actually fine-tune it to that point to know that Scott likes that sort of thing and then we share that across apps," he explained. "So we know if he uses his Facebook that way, he's going to use Twitter that way, and we learn this way to engage."

But years later, Dunlap acknowledges that the work comes with a cost.

"We realized our apps were more addictive than chemically addictive substances," he said. "I got them reaching for their phone 120 times a day just with my app. And then we would all high five each other and then we would go, 'Wait a minute. Is this a good thing? Are we doing the right thing?'"

Dunlap says many of his counterparts are asking themselves the same questions.

"Now that we've connected the world, we could probably do better. How can we really bring [people] together?"

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle worries that screen time is pulling people apart, making them less empathetic toward the world around them. And with technology constantly at our fingertips, there may be another unexpected casualty: boredom.

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"The capacity for boredom is the single most important development of childhood ... children who are constantly being stimulated by what's on their phone really don't get the opportunity to look at that world, bring it in, and make something wonderful of it," Turkle said. "If you don't teach your children to be alone, they'll only know how to be lonely."

She cited a study where students were asked to sit alone without their phones for 15 minutes. There was an electroshock machine in the room as well. When asked if they would shock themselves while sitting in the room with nothing to do, the consensus was a resounding no. According to Turkle, after six minutes, a significant number of students began to shock themselves. The result of the experiment was alarming: they would rather shock themselves than sit alone.

In a sense, we're all part of an experiment, Gordhamer says. It's unclear what impact our relationship with technology will have on our brains, our attention spans or our relationships with one another.

"It's almost as if we're a bunch of frogs and we've thrown ourselves in hot water, and the water's getting hotter and hotter," Gordhamer said. "We don't know where the end of this experiment goes."

Produced by Erica Fink, Laurie Segall, Jason Farkas, Justine Quart, Roxy Hunt, Tony Castle, AK Hottman, Benjamin Garst, Haldane McFall, Gabriel Gomez, BFD Productions, Jack Regan, Cullen Daly.

Article edited by Aimee Rawlins.

Web design & development - Stephany Cardet & Vanessa Meza, CNN Digital Labs.