Tech and humans – is the tail wagging the dog?

Ethics in the tech industry - reflections from SXSW

Ethics front and centre

Using technology such as AI and ML, we can create better and more relevant experiences. But without having the right intent, or understanding our user’s intent, such experiences risk being creepy and intrusive and may also be harmful to our brand. Technology can be used to influence how we think, how we behave, how we view ourselves and others, and how to build our societies and shape our future.

In other words, the focus should be on us humans, not so much on the technology itself. How can we put humans (back?) in the driver’s seat and use technology to serve our purposes? And how can we make sure that we always carefully consider the consequences of our actions, both short and long term?

The focus needs to be on us humans, not on the technology itself. We need to find out how we can put humans in the driver’s seat and use technology to serve our purposes.

It's all about intent

One of the words that were mentioned over and over during SXSW was intent. The importance of being conscious about why we’re doing things. Using the intent as a guideline to be on an ethical path, and for being honest about your intensions.

Another point that was made was that we need to understand the user’s intent. An example from the AdTech-industry is that a promise of machine learning is that with enough data we can know what you need before you do. According to Dr. Deepna at DotDash, this is dangerously false as prior behaviour doesn’t always predict what you need now.

Technology and empathy

To understand and have empathy with humans (the users), is at the core of being a designer. The same goes for the desire to design meaningful experiences that create value to the individual.

Data and technology are powerful tools that can provide us an even more profound and better understanding of people’s motivations, drivers, pains, limitations, etc. It can literally get us inside people’s heads and thoughts.

To use data to get the right insights, we need to define what we want to understand and then make sure that we have the correct data. That is the right quality, quantity and coming from the right source.

Data can help us get valuable insights by providing us with profound and deeper understanding of people’s motivations, drivers, pains and limitations.

The power of why?

Based on my learnings from SXSW, I’ve identified a few tools which can be used in our work to make sure that we always use technology on people’s premises.

One of the most essential tools is asking why. Why are we doing what we are doing? Asking this question will force us to make conscious decisions and be aware of our actions. If our intentions are good, people will be more likely to accept and approve of our products and services. And being transparent and authentic is vital to our credibility and our brand.

There are also existing ethical frameworks for ethics in technology, such as ACM, The Institute for Ethical AI & Machine Learning and The Modellers Oath (Wilmott & Derman). These frameworks provide methodology and routines for ethical assurance in our daily operations.

Dennis Crowley, CEO & Co-founder of Foursquare, commented in his talk, that doctors and lawyers have ethical training, so why don’t people who work with technology have the same? Dealing with data and tools with potentially high impact on people’s lives, this should be mandatory as part of our training. In Foursquare they even have an ethics committee where employees can report or ask questions when in doubt. 

Moreover, there are technologies and products that provide tools that we can use to be more ethical and more transparent. Blockchain is an example of technology as a shared source of trust.Solidis another new exciting project led by Prof. Tim Berners-Lee taking place at MIT. The project aims to radically whinge the web addressing data ownership and improved privacy.

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Linda Vik

Linda Vik
+47 992 23 367
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