Speaker: Nipun Mehta

Tech & AI: Catalyst or Catastrophe for Inner Development?

This talk is a recording from the IDG (Inner Development Goals) Summit in Sweden on October 12, 2023. It followed a powerful keynote address to several thousand people.

Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace, a global community working at the intersection of technology, volunteerism and a gift culture. As a designer of large-scale social movements that are rooted in small acts of service and powered by micro moments of inner transformation, his work has uniquely catalyzed "many to many" networks of community builders grounded in their localities and rooted in practices of cultivating deeper connection -- with oneself, each other and our systems. Today, ServiceSpace reaches millions every month, is powered by thousands of volunteers, and blossoms into ever-expanding local and virtual service projects that aim to ignite a "whole great than the sum of its parts". Nipun was honored as an "unsung hero of compassion" by the Dalai Lama, not long before former U.S. President Obama appointed him to a council for addressing poverty and inequality in the US. Yet the core of what strikes anyone who meets him is the way his life is an attempt to bring smiles in the world and silence in his heart: "I want to live simply, love purely, and give fearlessly. That's me."

On the relational spectrum of weak ties, deep bonds and noble friendships, our global center of gravity is around weak ties -- one in five adults don’t have anyone they can count on for help; 330 million adults go at least two weeks without talking to a single friend or family member;  two billion people are so unhappy with where they live that they wouldn’t recommend their community to anyone they know. Such a context lends not only itself to vicious cycles of polarization but gives rise to market-driven technologies that amplify such a status-quo. Just as social media hacked our attention, AI is now poised to disrupt our intimacy. 

Instead of charting a seductive escape into the virtual worlds of a meta-verse, can we imagine a better party? A “metta verse” perhaps (metta is the Sanskrit word for loving-kindness). Instead of giving up on the messiness of human relationships, can we expand our threshold for equanimity, get creative with how we engage gifts of each person, and build systems that are regenerated by intrinsic motivations? 

For the last 25 years, ServiceSpace has been an “incubator of compassionate action” working with millions of people to push some bounds around these uncommon inquiries. What started with some college kids in Silicon Valley helping build websites for nonprofits has now mushroomed into projects ranging from a platform that publishes good news to a restaurant where everyone pays forward for each other to meditation circles without teachers in living rooms around the world – to most recently pioneering powerful applications of AI. Perhaps what’s most compelling is that this entire ecology is “nature funded”, in that it operates without any fundraising or advertising or solicitation of any kind. Being entirely driven by gratitude, ServiceSpace has cultivated unique insights into collective action and kinship that can be circulated through many parts of today’s society.

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