Fear often drives people’s perceptions of reality. Technology and innovation offer few exceptions. Media hype cycles, social media-driven misinformation and peer-to-peer rumors fill voids for people looking for accountability, transparency and honest answers from the global tech community. Now is the time for companies that create emerging technologies to lead global efforts that communicate, educate and respond to public concerns about them in an inclusive way. These efforts must start at home, within companies themselves, from the technology leaders actively driving the innovations.
It’s fundamental human nature to get distracted by the negative aspects -- or potentially dire risks -- of new or unclear realities. As a result, the global tech community must acknowledge that enduring progress with sustainable innovation relies on personal connections between innovators and the general public, not ad-hoc exposure to technologies that lacks clarity around benefits they provide to people. Videos of robots climbing stairs, dancing to popular music or self-driving cars causing fatal accidents for instance, serve only to stoke misperceptions rather than accurately portray how technologies improve quality of life or what people should keep in mind about them. Chief information officers and IT leaders on the frontier of building technology innovations need to do the following:
- Educate the communities within non-technical areas of businesses about how to use the technology and unveil the opportunities it creates.
- Create, and continue to improve, applications and solutions that deliver value to people.
- Focus on providing proven use cases and deprioritize highlighting the technology components needed to make them happen.
- Deliver engaging user experiences that help people become comfortable with change.
Emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, and blockchain already present opportunities to do things in a way that didn’t exist in the world a few years ago. However, the success of technologies like these relies on human responsibility and accountability. People building these technologies need to acknowledge that every innovation running on datasets can carry implicit biases and take the steps needed to solve for them before innovations hit the market. We simply cannot let business competition get in the way of ethical innovation. This is, again, a critical area where CIOs must effectively communicate with other C-level executives to ensure myopic, impulsive decisions are not made when developing tomorrow’s technologies.
A balance must be struck at the corporate-level between a traditionally singular focus on increasing bottom-lines and developing mechanisms for delivering social benefit. Efforts need to provide useful information, evidence-backed solutions and guidance from IT leaders/experts with hands-on experience building technologies -- not exclusive C-suite panels. The global tech community needs to work together to stamp out bad actors, remove biased datasets, fortify R&D practices and communicate all of it to people to avoid biased and potentially destructive innovation -- and correct misperceptions of innovation that benefits people in a real way. Specifically, developers and tech leaders should do the following:
- Gain an understanding of what they are building including both the positive and possible negative uses of those applications or technologies. For example, exploring how data plugged into social media platforms is used for nefarious or security breaching purposes.
- Receive training on the ethics of using technology and the dangers of negative intent.
- Proactively test for risks or biases during the R&D and development phase to mitigate them before they reach society.
- Make efforts to highlight both the positive examples of good behavior and the examples of harmful use, so non-technical people are aware of both possibilities.
- Underscore that people building the technologies need to lead cultural change to embrace innovation for good.
While it’s true that some disciplines of innovation carry potential risks that impact various industries and communities, they will also create new opportunities for people to learn about and work with technologies that literally change the world. Innovators need to work toward unveiling this and other big answers to questions people have about how innovation will impact them personally. There’s plenty of work to be done, and it starts with transparency.
Businesses need to step up to help us embrace technologies that will help advance economies, democratize industries, deliver social impact, minimize risks to humanity and understand the diverse benefits of innovation. This will not happen unless there is transparency beginning within the company, specifically between IT and CIO leaders and the C-suite. The separate entities must work in concert for technology to reach its full potential, both from an application and socially good perspective. When transparency occurs, not only will businesses have clearer direction, but leaders on the non-technical side can then clearly communicate with the wider public about the truth and possibilities behind the ever-buzzy “tech” advancements being made.
With the right intent and the people behind it, technology is always at the brink of delivering enormous value to humankind. We should prepare the way to embrace it.
Shivani Govil is EVP of Emerging Tech and Ecosystem at Sage, a global technology company operating in 23 countries and serving over 3 million customers. Responsible for key fintech growth areas such as AI and Blockchain she is responsible for driving value and enhancing the customer experience through establishing emerging technologies into the product line.