Joe Edelman

I'm a philosopher, sociologist, game designer, and entrepreneur.

My biggest contribution is a definition of "human values", “meaningful choices", etc that's precise enough to create surveys, metrics, aligned ML models, etc. That same formalization of human values can enable explainable, moral learning in AI, and be used to design systems that support meaningful living, perhaps addressing problems with mechanisms like markets, ML, or social media, which optimize for engagement and revealed preference, rather than values.

This work is a formalization of definitions of values from Ruth Chang, Charles Taylor, and others.

I've recently started a research organization with projects related to formalizations of human values, LLM fine-tuning methods, democratic structures, and meaning-based mechanism design. I also started a small online school, where I wrote a textbook on Values-Based Data Science & Design.

My work finds applications in design methods, product success metrics, market design, recommender systems, AI ethics, social networks, political theory, the foundations of microeconomics, the nature of emotions, etc.

Contact me on twitter!

Practical Techniques to Align Markets, LLMs, Social Networks, and Organizations with Human Flourishing, 2023 In this 80m talk, I first define “meaningful living” precisely enough to create surveys, metrics, and aligned ML models, etc—so we can design systems to support it, then give a concrete design “toolkit”, developed over 6 years with hundreds of designers, to make things “meaningful on purpose” and to keep them that way. Finally, I cover problems with meaning and the social fabric that emerge at large scales—such as with global social networks, operating systems, app stores, and markets, and give solutions. (transcript)

Building a Second Heart / Augmenting Human Souls, 2021 A research demo for a writing interface backed by a database of values.

Social Programming Considered as a Habitat for Groups, 2019 A new way to code up social apps and information systems emerges from studying how people use ordinary speech to set up social roles and obligations.

Tech Products (that Don't Cause Depression and War), 2021 An introduction to the Values-Based Social Design method.

Four Ideas for Better Human Systems, 2016 A summary of some technological applications of my research.

Choicemaking and the Interface, 2014 Theories of choice from economics and philosophy suggest information requirements for good choices. In view of these requirements, we can see why current menus lead toward regrettable and isolating choices.

Values, Preferences, Meaningful Choice, 2022 I present a conception of values as attention policies resulting from constitutive judgements, and use it to build an alternative preference relation, Meaningful Choice, which retains many desirable features of revealed preference.

Making Values Concrete, 2021 Values as constitutive attentional policies.

How to Design Social Systems (Without Causing Depression and War), 2018 A model of human choicemaking in terms of evolving and practicing values, and a design method to go with it.

Nothing to be Done, 2017 Intellectual history of the west, from a designers' standpoint, as a succession of approaches to human systems.

Is Anything Worth Maximizing, 2016 About how metrics affect the structure of organizations and societies, how they change the economy, how we’re doing them wrong, and how we could do them right.

Find my games on

I got started by developing the meaning-based organizational metrics at, then co-founded the Center for Humane Technology with Tristan Harris, and coined the term “Time Well Spent” for a family of metrics adopted by teams at Facebook, Google, and Apple.

I then started an online school and wrote a textbook on Values-Based Design, and more recently am starting a nonprofit to bring about a future where wise AIs and humans collaborate to help people live well.

My philosophy work descends pretty clearly from that of Amartya Sen, Charles Taylor, David Velleman, and Ruth Chang.

In tech, I was lucky to learn from people like Alan Kay, Terry Winograd, and Bill Verplank at Interval Research, from Casey Fenton at CouchSurfing (where I developed the metrics which guided the company), from Howie Shrobe and Marvin Minksy at MIT. And more recently through conversations with Bret Victor and Rob Ochshorn.

My tactic of running social experiments through games and performance emerged from study with Christian Wolff (partipatory music) and Peter Parnell (playwriting) at Dartmouth, and then various improvisational scores with Nancy Stark Smith, Mike Vargas, Ruth Zaporah, and others. I had the great fortune to work alongside Albert Kong and Catherine Herdlick on the real world games festival Come Out and Play.

Finally, I've benefited from working alongside Ellie Hain and Tristan Harris, Nathan Vanderpool, and Anne Selke.