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Towards a RESTful (Responsible, Ethical, and Sustainable Technology) Future

A weak mobile signal from a flooded tunnel saved many lives after the glacier burst in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India. In the shocking mob incidents on the Capitol Hill and at the Red Fort, the role of social media, and responses by the state and tech companies, have been the focus of hot debates. Technology today has the power to save and to threaten what we value, in an unprecedented manner.

The digital revolution has touched humanity across the globe with a speed and span that few imagined. As against earlier disruptions (steam and the industrial revolution), the digital wave has conferred power in the hands of people and made us consumers – and producers as well. This democratization of technology has significantly increased the responsibility of using it sensibly and for legitimate purpose, across board, from individuals to enterprises and governments as well. Transparency and trust have to be consciously built between these entities.

Responsibility to Balance Intelligence and Privacy

The ability for individuals to share data through multiple channels (Domo estimates 1.7MB per person per second[1]) has led to data and information explosion, often leading us to question their source and validity. Potential of technologies such as AI to generate synthetic data has only compounded the problem. Filtering signal out of the noise has become harder than ever. Data collection and its management have gained paramount importance for enterprises and governments. This had also led to the rise of the conscious consumers and citizens demanding greater transparency, ownership, and governance in the use of their information. Formulation of privacy laws and their strict implementation in many countries is a result of this. Enterprises have also stepped up efforts to build transparency and re-establish consumer trust. The abolishment of third-party cookie tracking by internet browsers is also a direct consequence of this trend and has resulted in marketers and advertisers having to change the game dramatically in how they track and use consumer data.

Responsibility towards Societal Ethics and Environmental Sustainability

The more powerful the technology, the greater the challenges. AI holds promise for every sphere of life: from creating new molecules to fight COVID-19 to pulling enterprises out of post pandemic recession; from understanding your personal preference in shopping to expediting space tourism.  However, we also understand the wide-ranging consequences – all the way from fairness and ethics to carbon costs and sustainability. Many governments have put up AI strategy documents. EU has an insightful document[2] outlining the important regulatory aspects that must come into play. One of its recommendations is: “Legal regulation has to focus on first principles, including individual rights and social goals, as well as on existing regulatory frameworks, such as data protection, consumer protection and competition law.” That is a good way to scrutinize all the game changing technologies that are emerging.

The pandemic forced us to pause and reflect. It

  • taught us that technology can surmount many challenges at home and work
  • made us rethink not just the way of using technology but doing business
  • accelerated the movement of data to the cloud and remote working

These changes have forced enterprises to step up security and build organizational resilience. Besides ensuring robust infrastructure, enterprises have begun educating users. Technology is in fact becoming a critical tool towards purpose driven business.  Purpose driven, resilient enterprise is the present and the way forward.

Governments globally have also risen to the occasion, joined hands where necessary and created policies and governance mechanisms to control and manage use of technology and thereby protect vulnerable citizens.

Sustainable practices deserve equal consideration in the overall responsibility paradigm. We must constantly question the cost and consequences to both human life and to our ecosystem.

The rise of the conscious consumer is a silver lining. I hope each of us can be one by being aware of the impact of new technology; educating families and groups in our sphere of influence to understand technology better.  As leaders of enterprises, make our workplaces more transparent with data and technology policies. And further, nudge ethical policy framing by the state. A triangular partnership between citizen groups, technology players and governments/policy makers must be forged to de-risk every new and powerful technology.

It is apparent that responsible build and use of technology is not limited to any one individual or entity but is a collective endeavor. History stands witness to the fact that whenever humanity faced challenges, human ingenuity has surfaced and fueled innovation.

The challenges we foresee in the near future are complex and stand to have consequences that impact not one section of the society but all humankind and not just one geography but the entire planet. But history teaches me to be optimistic: we will learn from the past, keep innovating, and hone each technology for the greater good. We will work towards a RESTful (Responsible, Ethical, and Sustainable Technology) future – simply because we don’t have a choice!

 

Leena Walavalkar

Chief Innovation Evangelist, Tata Consultancy Services

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[1] https://www.domo.com/assets/downloads/18_domo_data-never-sleeps-6+verticals.pdf

[2] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2019/631043/IPOL_BRI(2019)631043_EN.pdf

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