2019 Forecast – Responsible Technology

The Love & Hate of Tech

We have a growing love and hate of technology. We hate the impact it’s had on the work world and what it foreshadows with the application of robotics and AI. We hate when our data is put at risk and compromised. We hate the intrusion technology has in our lives. We hate what technology is doing to society and our mental health. For example, according to Ford’s recent 2019 Trend report, Gen Z (68%), Millennials (69%), Gen X (62%), and Boomers (53%) all agree, “I would like to undo some behavioral changes that have occurred because of technology.”

Yet, if the technology has utility, consumers are willing to look the other way. We love being able to build a shop or website easily and beautifully without knowing how to code or design. We appreciate when personalization is done right by companies and makes our shopping experience easier. We love the convenience of two-day shipping from Amazon. We love the convenience of asking Alexa the weather. We love being able to find and connect with old friends on Facebook.

What’s changed is that we are raising our standards and becoming more discerning of technology and its impact on us personally and on the world around us. We are no longer apathetic towards technological progress. Technology companies won’t continue to go unchecked and will rather be held responsible for the downstream impacts of their advancements. For example, we have Tristan Harris who used to work at Google as the company’s first design ethicist, having first raised the alarm on technology’s negative impacts, and started the Center for Humane Technology. Kara Swisher, the technology business journalist and co-founder of Recode, has been raising the alarm for some time and continues to do so.

There is a lot of coverage and discussion on AI and ethics. Facial recognition is the next technology that’s starting to get a similar level of scrutiny. Some companies are trying to get ahead of it, as this article from the CEO of Trueface demonstrates where he says, “We’re on a mission to advance businesses and society through the responsible use of face recognition technology. Hold us to it.”

What does it mean?

Consumers will start to hold technology companies accountable for their impact on society. Thus, companies need to think about the consequences of what they are producing, doing scenario planning of what could go wrong with their “advancements.” They need to be more responsible with people’s data and use it constructively and with protection.

Consumers will still love tech that delivers on utility. But they’ll love it even more if downsides are minimized. This will require that more products be designed with a human-centered mindset, requiring the building of our empathy muscles. It will also require companies to expand who they include in innovation to deliver solutions that work for all and avoid bias. They will need to be more inclusive and have more people at the table in designing and building these new technologies, as you can’t design for what you can’t see or experience.

Yet, we also can’t simply blame negative impacts on the broad industry called “technology.” We forget—we humans are still in control and are really the ones to be held accountable. Listening to several experts in the AI arena at an Atlantic event on our Tech Future in December 2018, one thing became clear—concerns around bias still come down to us humans. AI is controlled by us. If data scientists don’t use proper data to design the algorithms, the results can be flawed and biased. The use of the results from machine learning can still be applied with bias if such bias exists within our society. Thus, AI ethics will only be as good as we humans are good and unbiased.

The Industry Forecast: Help provide society with responsible technology. Consumers are more discerning and won’t stand for companies acting as if they didn’t foresee untoward problems. Companies can succeed by taking a more human-centered view of their products and their impact in the world.


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