Technology and the change it propels so often outpace not only the comprehension of those on the outside of its development but also a full reckoning of its impact on individuals, businesses, entire industries, institutions and broader society. Its path of creative destruction creates countless new opportunities and use cases but also raises new concerns. The news is rife with stories about the impact of technology, from the use (or misuse) of personal data in ways that generate concern (or worse) to the calculation of exam results that appear to embed bias and even the creation of ‘deep fakes’ that challenge our very ability to decipher what is real. There is a powerful case for the need for technology and a consideration of ethics to go hand in hand.
Bad actors, of course, do not need to leverage technology to behave in ways that society would deem unacceptable, but technology creates opportunity and scale well beyond the ability of most individuals. There are plenty of rules and regulations sanctioning bad or illegal behaviour, but have they kept pace with modern technology? It is often said with regards to the use of technology that you should regulate what you do, not how you do it. But Is that sufficient when it comes to the power of technology and the extent to which it underpins an increasing portion of our day to day lives?
Zvika Krieger, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) head of technology policy noted in an article in Wired magazine earlier this year (pre-pandemic) the ‘techlash’ focused on mainly large tech companies and that “government leaders, historically the stewards of protecting society from the impacts of new innovations, are becoming exasperated at the inability of traditional policy making to keep up with the unprecedented speed and scale of change.” He also outlines the framework that the WEF proposes in order to both mitigate against potential harm from products and regain the trust of the public.
A process of identifying red flags and building that into existing review points (as with cyber security, environmental impact etc) so that it too becomes part of the development process is an important first step. Training individuals, who are then embedded in teams across an enterprise can help ensure that ethical considerations are not just the preserve of specialists or specialist teams but also sit with champions across the business.
Not surprisingly perhaps, it all comes back to culture. It is crucial to create and support a culture that ensures that results are not the only measure of success but that bringing up concerns about ethical impact are also valued outcomes. In practical terms that may mean putting the brakes on a project, an outcome that needs to be welcomed rather than penalised.
The anxieties that new technologies can raise is an issue across almost all industries and do not have a fixed set of solutions. Ethics are embedded in a social context and shift over time. The frameworks, like the technology, will need to continuously evolve. The change that we have seen in the financial services sector over recent years and with much more on the horizon, make incorporating ethical concerns across all phases of product and service development ever more important.
The current crisis has accelerated the shift to digital. Out of sheer necessity many of us are accessing more and more of the products and services we use though digital channels. The need to understand the impact of technology and the potential negative consequences has never been greater. The opportunity to prey on the fears and even lack of understanding of how it is leveraged can fuel further distrust and sow the seeds for an even greater techlash.
A discussion of technology and ethics is an important topic at FTT Virtual North America. We look forward to learning from our panel of experts as to how they propose to tackle the concerns of end users and citizens across their industries and societies. Join us on September 9th to be part of the conversation. Register your interest here: https://www.fintechtalents.com/virtualnorthamerica/