By Satish Viswanathan Head of Social Impact, Thoughtworks India
Technology forces us to be mindful about ensuring it equally benefits all. This approach to ‘responsible tech’ relies on business leaders, as decision-makers, to not assume that their deployment of technology is a neutral decision and to validate that their use of technology doesn’t exclude or disadvantage anyone.
At this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the Global Alliance on Artificial Intelligence announced its intention of helping companies, governments and civil society organisations work together to accelerate people-centered technology adoption.
On the other side of the world, an MIT report sponsored by Thoughtworks shares findings that support the investment of effort and resources in responsible tech. 73% of the survey’s respondents believe, “responsible technology considerations will eventually come to equal business or financial considerations in importance when organisations make decisions about technology use.”
Responsible tech in India
Companies operating in India have a significant responsibility to bridge the digital divide with solutions that are suited to low resources and incorporate multilingual features for better accessibility.
What is clear is that responsible technology is here to stay, and organisations are taking it seriously. They know that failing to act on these issues may have negative effects on their brand reputation, their retention of customers and employees, and their ability to comply with new or existing regulations—and that, by contrast, acting decisively may benefit their bottom line and the social good.
Interestingly, the biggest concerns when it comes to tech in India are cybersecurity and privacy and data integrity. This is where adequate adherence to data protection laws and regulations will help protect the privacy of citizens and companies operating in India.
In India, most businesses are highly motivated by government regulation. This might be because the onus for defining ‘responsibility’ in the context of technological innovation often falls to governments and regulators. Also, responsible technology frameworks are perceived to be deeply ingrained in company culture and operations. Particularly for larger organisations in India, emphasising digital literacy and fostering a responsible tech-focused community is critical to the continued enablement of ‘good tech.’
It wasn’t long ago, in 2020 that India became one of the founding members of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD’s multi-stakeholder initiative – Global Partnership for Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), which has the goal of “guiding the responsible development of the AI, grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation, and economic growth.”
What’s next in responsible tech?
Our vast global experience and longtime commitment to ‘tech for good’ ultimately led us to publish our Responsible Technology Playbook to help other organisations. Responsible technology goes beyond a hypothetical or a buzzword – it is a concrete business consideration across industries.
Leaders should consider how responsible tech policies could impact brand perception among customers, investors, vendors, and partners. Organisations should adopt a more serious approach to how their employees, both current and future, view their use and creation of technology. And forward-looking business leaders, at both small and large companies, should expect that responsible technology, and practices related to environmental sustainability in particular, will continue to grow in importance.
An interesting case study is India’s largest brokerage firm, Zerodha, and its views on user engagement. A widely read blog, written by their CTO, Kailash Nadh states, “There is great irony in software specifically created for stealing attention, profiling user behavior and mining private data to sell ads, touting user-centricity and showcasing sophisticated technology for maintaining privacy.” His idea is that when we combine software with a viable business model to meaningfully solve problems – our conviction in the software’s usefulness will organically acquire users and gradually create a sustainable business – this approach will drastically reduce the likelihood of creating user-hostility. And he says, “This clarity brings on things that truly matter—quality and utility of the software.”
As the understanding of responsible technology continues to evolve and mature, further nuances are likely to emerge. Organisational motivations are not always sufficient to overcome barriers to change or aligned with how responsible technology practices actually manifest. This is perhaps unsurprising: As companies dig into how to make existing operations more responsible—or build responsible technologies from the ground up—they may uncover unanticipated benefits, challenges, or areas of opportunity.
We expect the overall trajectory of responsible technology – and its potential to change the world for the better. If leaders are able to recognise that while algorithms can scale up problems massively and exacerbate inequality massively, they can also do the opposite.