Even just a passing glance at the programme tracks this year at SXSW there is a strong indication that there is far more than a rumble now about ethics of how technology is made, used and disrupts social and business norms. We have been considering some of these questions at Dotforge as we support the use of tech to “do good”. We have to ask ourselves should our role include ensuring the tech is built considering all the implications of data use, disruption to people’s lives or industry, privacy, diversity of the team and a self-awareness of the delivery team to be asking themselves these questions.
This review of my SXSW experience is not exhaustive of the debates that happened over those 5 days in Austin, but is a sample of some of the sessions I attended, and the a starting point for some of the issues and ideas I will continue to explore in this blog from time to time as I gather more data.
It is worth noting that the most impactful session I attended at SXSW this year was a solo presentation by ex CIA Analyst Carmen Medina who outlined a series of tips for developing a greater self-awareness of our own bias in how we consume and assess information and the conclusions we come to. With that frame these are the ideas and areas that sparked my interest.
I came away from the session chaired by Casey Oppenheim on Rating IOT the most hopeful and with the most leads to follow in terms of positive actions and guidance. Oppenheim is part of a team that has published The Digital Standard a guide for the security and use of IoT applications – designed to be used by the consumer as much as by the maker of the products.
Similarly Nadya Bliss’ panel Connected Cities and Hackable Streets talked practically about the challenges of legacy systems and cultures of hiding failure in the new world of smarts cities. Outlining some great questions and tips for Smart City devices including: Design for update, does the device need to be on public internet? Data is a liability as much as an asset - only ask for what you need. Disclose venerability’s immediately. And an interesting suggestion for cities embracing a smart cities agenda: ensure there is a single entity or person responsible for the decisions regarding products, data access and security this way they will be advocates for being data and cyber aware.
In contrast possibly the most disturbing discussion was Nancy Giordano’s panel looking at the future of AI and HI. The essential conclusion was – particularly for biological interventions for increasing human intelligence – that ethical issues would be put aside as governments entered an economic race to allow their citizens to augment their intelligence. Bryan Johnson was particularly eloquent on this point – although of course he has clear vested reasons for also making this argument. He was not challenged by his panel members, which I found troubling.
My SXSW was bookended with another solo session this time from Anil Dash – one of the founding founders of the USA tech ecosystem and advocate of a more humane tech industry. Dash is a not a great believer in heroes moving mountains but an advocate of many people working to make incremental change creates a more sustained impact. He shared a few ideas and some heart breaking findings from his shout out on Twitter asking “So, what made you stop trying to learn how to code? I’m curious about the barriers that get erected.” These responses from women and none white techs where shocking and sobering – you can tack them here.
A couple of the standout concepts from Anil where: a challenge for the public sector to reinvent Libraries as the tech platforms as they still are the places for learning and engagement for the social excluded; and a equally measured challenge that we start to measure CE and other related university and college courses on the quality of ethics they teach their students not just the coding skills.
These discussions have generated a huge range of questions for me and many of my colleagues. Through this blog I plan to collect together interesting commentary on these areas, share my learning, conclusions or lack of them!
Key Questions are:
Who owns the data we generate using software applications? How much of that data is kept and how much needs to be kept?
What is a transparent Algorithm? Is this possible in a commercial environment?
Is the data being used to support the development of the AI and algorithms in many of the applications we use inheritably bias? Do we care about this? How would we even know?
And fundamentally are the people developing these technologies approaching this process in teams that are equipped – because of their diversity, knowledge base and experience – to reflect and ask these questions of the tools they are building?
There are also a set of related questions:
What is the role of legislation? Where are the examples of effective legislation in a sector that is moving so much faster than our current law making processes?
How best can commissioners and investors equip ourselves to be able to understand the implications and the parameters of what we are funding or buying?
Please do add your own questions and also share commentators or articles you have found helpful or even unhelpful in covering these areas. I am keen to keep build up these resource to help inform the wider Dotforge network and specifically our own work.