It should come as no surprise that cities and citizens alike are pushing back hard against the many companies currently dumping motorised scooters on city streets, particularly because these companies appear to be operating on the principle that it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Examples like this, typical of the so-called sharing economy, are perceived by people not so much as technology innovations, but rather as new revenue streams for companies that haven’t been thought out quite well enough.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that this approach will no longer work when it comes to truly transformative technology innovation. Concerns about technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles are growing, and the companies developing these technologies cannot afford to take the ‘beg for forgiveness’ approach to ensuring their acceptance. Resistance among consumers and government regulators against several big tech companies that are taking this path only highlights the risks involved.
What’s required is a change in the strategies used to bring new technologies to market. The key element to focus on is trust — making sure that how these technologies work, how they will be used and what their potential effects on society will be are clearly understood and communicated to people on the receiving end. Tech companies should take three factors into account as they develop and implement new technologies.
- Transparency. First, companies need to be forthcoming about how their new innovations work. AI is a case in point. Already, concerns are being raised about the spectre of bias and unintended consequences in the algorithms that AI systems use to sort data and draw conclusions, in fields as varied as hiring, loan applications and criminal justice. Demands are rising that AI systems be ‘explainable’ — transparent in how they make decisions, and clear in their impact on the people they potentially affect. Tech companies developing and selling these systems must lay the groundwork needed to satisfy demands for transparency, and work with the organisations to which they sell their systems to make sure they too can assuage concerns about the ‘black box’ nature of their systems.
- Governance. Companies must also work to refine the mechanisms they use to bring their technology innovations to market. The reputational risks of unleashing new, often unproven, technologies into the world are becoming more apparent. Companies must create a path to market that includes a careful assessment of the risks involved — not just technological and economic risks, but social and political ones as well. Then they must determine how to mitigate those risks by publicly acknowledging them and by adapting their innovations to reduce them. Critical to this effort will be the designing of clear governance mechanisms for determining accountability for managing such risks.
- Public policy. Finally, technology companies must pursue a more active, positive role in the development of governmental policies and regulations that affect their operations. Simply standing in the way of rational efforts to oversee their activities is already producing a backlash that may result in excessive regulation. Instead, companies must be honest about the nature of their innovations and work closely with policymakers to ensure the development of reasonable standards of safety, security and privacy that allow the technology industry to keep innovating while reducing concerns about the effect of their work on the individual and society as a whole.
We are poised to enter a world in which digital technologies are becoming more and more pervasive and for many, more frightening. Technology companies, and the tech industry as a whole, must work to reduce these concerns through strategies that promote trust and openness, even as they continue to aggressively develop and promote the latest in technology innovations.
Download the full Technology trends 2019 report here