Sonia Turcotte

February 1, 2019

Responsible Tech 2019

Yesterday I went to the Responsible Tech 2019 conference organised by Doteveryone. You can read a bit more about the event’s purpose and line-up on their site and the Twitter hashtag has lots of great quotes and highlights.

There were a few people saying things that really resonated with me. I’ve summarised some of their comments here.

Rashida Richardson – ​AI Now Institute

We allow tech to continue if the negative impacts aren’t immediate or particularly egregious. And sometimes even when they are.

Two questions to think of when assessing whether tech is good or bad.

What do we perceive as the problem? Society often misperceives problems, seeing the symptom and not the core problem.

Why do we think technology is the best solution? Tech can’t always solve the problems, sometimes they are societal or government problems.

Technology companies should adopt something like the Hippocratic Oath – ‘First do no harm’ – and there should be real, legal consequences for not upholding it.

Dr. Ella FitzsimmonsProjects by ​IF

Ethical technology shouldn’t be a luxury.

Subscription models will happen, but they may exacerbate a tiered internet and reinforce structural inequality. If you don’t have money, you get trash content and lots of ads, etc.

Self-regulation is inadequate and too slow. Ethical principles are laudable, but not enough. If there looks to be a very elegant solution, it means it probably can’t be accurate.

It’s not the ends that justify the means, but what ends justify what means.

Anab Jain – Superflux

Bias is a social problem. We can’t solve that through technology so it’s insufficient to focus on just trying to solve bias in AI.

We need to have the courage to imagine a different economic paradigm. Human centred design is not sufficient. We are not the centre of the universe. We need to see social and environmental and sustainability issues as interconnected.

It is not enough to have a glitter dust of ethics that you sprinkle on top of technology.

I think the reason why these speakers stood out is the common thread of looking beyond the tech industry to wider social problems. I believe we need to have the difficult and uncomfortable conversations about the social issues and cultural hegemonies that influence how technology is developed and not just the impact that technological advancement has on modern society.

My overwhelming feeling at the end of the conference was that these conversations are still too insular. It’s good to hear calls for increased responsibility and transparency entering public discourse, however, the focus is still very much within tech communities. While there were some people, like Rashida and Ella and Anab, talking about the need to widen the scope, much of the day still felt like a bunch of tech people talking to each other.

I believe it is vital to turn to new voices and learn with them, without the arrogance of ‘we know better’. We need to facilitate a collaborative approach between practitioners across different fields if we want to imagine a better future for our human and more-than-human world.