How ethical, inclusive tech can help us create a better world

  • Technology has the potential to transform our lives for the better.
  • But first we must overcome challenges of bias that perpetuate inequalities.
  • Leaders must ensure technology is inclusive through development, application and access.
  • Read the report “Davos Labs: Youth Recovery Plan” here.

Critical technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, has already defined our world and will increasingly do so in the future.

In this context, we must remember that technology is neither positive nor negative but rather a reflection of its curation. This notion creates a responsibility that our leaders – as the curators – must guide its development, implementation and accessibility in a way that is reflective of the values of the society we wish to create, not simply a projection and perpetuation of the realities and biases of our history.

The responsibility for leaders is to face the exponential and transformative potential of technology and leverage it for the betterment of society – while proactively overcoming the risks presented.

The promise of emerging tech

Innovators worldwide are showing that increased equality, and equity, is possible through harnessing the power of emerging technologies. This includes innovations such as Health Catalyst’s Healthcare.AI™, an analytics platform with a suite of predictive models to drive better decision making to address and protect from life-threatening illnesses. AI also has the potential to drive greater inclusion and improved learning outcomes for children with special needs through the ability to make educational tools tailored to the individual.

AI also holds unprecedented potential for the sustainability sector. AI’s application to address environmental challenges across sectors has been estimated to have the potential to contribute up to $5.2 trillion USD to the global economy in 2030 and could create 38.2 million net new jobs across the global economy as part of the transition to a clean and green global economy.

Overcoming challenges

Achieving this future filled with inclusive technological advancements is not without challenges. Recent research has found that while AI will aid the advancement of 134 targets across the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, it may also inhibit 59 of the targets.

Without ethical considerations at their core, digital technologies have an unmatched ability to reinforce and accelerate inequalities. This is not only as a product of the persisting digital divide – referred to as ‘the new face of inequality’ as 3.7 billion people remain disconnected from the internet – but also the potential of invasive or discriminatory applications. Such discriminatory applications have already been demonstrated to perpetuate disadvantage in financial, educational, health and employment contexts.

These risks originate in the capability of AI or other critical technology advancements to infuse discrimination into decision making as a product of ethical failings in the development, implementation or accessibility of these technologies. The high-scale impact that such errors can have has been seen in cases such as the health-care based risk prediction algorithm, used on an estimated 200 million Americans, which was shown to favour white patients over black patients due to a failure to engage in proper testing with all predominant racial groups before deployment.

Ridding AI and machine learning of bias involves taking their many uses into consideration.

Ridding AI and machine learning of bias involves taking their many uses into consideration.

Image: British Medical Journal

The path forward

In a world of emerging technology, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to an objective ethical framework. Therefore, the solution – and responsibility – must sit with our leaders to consider ethics proactively in their decision making. Inclusive leadership has been repeatedly proven to drive improved innovation, decision making and design.

Be it in leadership, development, data inputs, testing, implementation, iteration or accessibility strategies, there is no excuse for not finding a way to engage an intersectional and inclusive view of our world in the development of technology – that is where the key to ethical technology lies. There are three stages to this process.

The Global Shapers Community is a network of young people under the age of 30 who are working together to drive dialogue, action and change to address local, regional and global challenges.

The community spans more than 8,000 young people in 165 countries and territories.

Teams of Shapers form hubs in cities where they self-organize to create projects that address the needs of their community. The focus of the projects are wide-ranging, from responding to disasters and combating poverty, to fighting climate change and building inclusive communities.

Examples of projects include Water for Life, a effort by the Cartagena Hub that provides families with water filters that remove biological toxins from the water supply and combat preventable diseases in the region, and Creativity Lab from the Yerevan Hub, which features activities for children ages 7 to 9 to boost creative thinking.

Each Shaper also commits personally and professionally to take action to preserve our planet.

Stage 1 – Development

Previous fumbles have shown us that we must ensure inclusive consideration, representation and leadership in the development phase of technology. We must design with ethics – and safety – in mind, not as an afterthought. This requires rigorous reviews of the datasets being leveraged, the corrections being made and the testing methods at play.

Stage 2 – Implementation

We must have voices present that are able to elevate the interests of the cross-section of users and stakeholders that technology will impact to ensure that the implementation is a reflection of our societal values, not simply an improved bottom line. It is essential that we move beyond the previous era of reactive disclosure and box ticking when it comes to ethical technology and proactively pursue a more just, equitable and sustainable world through building inclusion into every phase of the process.

Stage 3 – Access

The consideration of accessibility must not be an afterthought. Engaging with people with lived personal experience is important to confirming whether technology will contribute to or help dismantle inequalities, such as the digital divide.

As many around the world push for the creation of a more just, equitable and sustainable future we must remember that technology is one of the greatest tools for achieving these goals, but without ethical considerations at the fore – such as intersectional and inclusive development, implementation and access – this will likely only perpetuate the very inequalities that we hope to address.

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