Technology stands on a precipice. On one hand, revolutions in artificial intelligence (AI), the blockchain and automation are ushering in an era of efficiency, advanced computing and research breakthroughs. On the other, there are stark warnings of widespread job losses, cybersecurity fears and even AI armageddon. For today’s tech leaders, the stakes are higher than at any other point in history. In their hands, technology can be a force for good – or evil.

Unethical technology undermines the industry

Technology leaders hold tremendous power to shape the world in a positive way. Responsible use of technology will support society’s needs and ensure a sustainable future. However, thus far, the irresponsible and unethical use of technology has marred the industry.

Data breaches are a common scandal. In 2018, T-Mobile suffered a data hack that exposed two million customer details including encrypted passwords. British Airways was also hacked, with 380,000 payment details stolen. The scandal left panicked customers scrambling to contact their banks and credit card providers. Recently, hackers published the personal details of thousands of FBI agents and law enforcement officers. Making them and their families vulnerable to attack and potentially blowing their cover. Breaches are a worrying development, with new reports of attacks and leaks surfacing every few weeks.

Scandals that damage trust

Then there is the unethical use of data. Highlighted in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which resulted in a deep public distrust of data use. Only a fifth of the UK public trust organisations to store and use their data. This has been further weakened by Facebook continuing to share data with third parties without explicit consumer knowledge or consent. Sharing arrangements with 150 organisations were revealed after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. These included retailers, other tech companies, media organisations, publishers and automotive manufacturers.

Time to rebuild the relationship

To rebuild trust in data and the wider tech sector, tech leaders must do more to address consumer concerns. They also have to go a step further, in ensuring sustainable business practices and actively solving society’s most critical issues. 76% of the public want to see CEOs actively driving change in society, instead of waiting for governments to impose it.

Positive uses are overshadowed

Overshadowed by scandal are many positive uses of technology. AI is being used in medical research to detect breast cancer with 99% accuracy, for example. It has potential applications in the circular economy, with AI designing out food waste in supply chains. The estimated value creation from this is estimated at US$127 billion a year by 2030.

Communicating such benefits and positive advances would do a great deal in regaining public trust in the sector.

Increased regulation

Concerns around the impact of technology are translating as increased scrutiny and regulation. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was introduced to give individuals greater power and ownership of their personal data. Likewise, governments are debating regulations for the sharing economy, gig workers, the policing of online content and breaking up big tech. All are products of technology, with resulting pros and cons. 

Hard to predict tech’s impact

Indeed, few tech leaders could have foreseen the long-term implications of Facebook, Uber, Airbnb and Twitter when first founded. We couldn’t have predicted the influence that Facebook would’ve had on the U.S. elections or Brexit voting. Nor could we of envisioned the widespread disruption to the travel and transport industry caused by Uber and Airbnb.

With more advanced developments on the horizon, such as deep learning and autonomous vehicles, the onus is on tech companies to make changes that have a net-positive impact on society. The time is now for technology leaders to ask reflective questions on the use and role of technology. To learn from the unintended outcomes of unhampered technology development and use.

Place humanity at the centre

It is time for humans to be placed squarely in the centre of all tech developments. Not to create newer and more advanced technology to prove that we can. But to develop technology that builds a better world for generations to come.

Oversight and accountability

To achieve this, we need oversight and accountability. This is something that governments are trying to implement. However, they lack the detailed understanding and insight of those within the industry. Therefore, it falls on tech leaders to regulate and hold each other accountable.

Technology should showcase best practice. It must be a symbol of purpose and positive societal progress. In doing so, profits will soon follow. To do the opposite will be to forever undermine the power of technology. We’re in the industry to change the world. Make sure it’s for the greater good.