Many experts – and many articles in Computer Weekly – have warned of the potential for social and cultural disruption and unrest as a result of the digital revolution. Does it feel to you, too, that we’re increasingly reaching a tipping point where this could happen?
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Only this week, we’ve had the UK government unveil plans for a new strategy for internet safety, aiming to “encourage” rather than force internet companies to be more responsible in their attitudes to “fake news”, online abuse and terrorist material.
This comes soon after Uber was attacked by Transport for London for allegedly using software to avoid regulation – part of the reason for Uber having its taxi licence withdrawn in the capital. The motor trade is still reeling from Volkswagen’s software-based abuse of vehicle emissions testing.
And then there are the ongoing debates – in government and in business – around data protection and privacy; nation state cyber security attacks; artificial intelligence and its potential impact on jobs; the lack of diversity in the tech workforce (and the sexism all-too often associated with it); the list goes on.
There’s no doubt that awareness of the risks and downsides of technology is becoming more widespread. Research this week from the Corsham Institute – a not-for-profit organisation that looks into issues around society and technology – highlighted the need for politicians, industry, and society to work together on gaining a better mutual understanding of the negative effects of the digital revolution.
Let’s face it, we know all these risks. We know we need to be better prepared. And while it’s true that technology moves faster than the law and politics can keep up with it, we already have perfectly good laws that outline our rights and responsibilities to fellow citizens that should apply to our online lives as much as face to face.
But change – especially on the scale of the digital revolution – is always an opportunity for those willing to exploit the cracks between those rights and responsibilities and when challenged, cry “You can’t stop progress”.
No you can’t, but you can make progress with more empathy and understanding – with an ethical approach to what you do, considering the social impact of what you do as much as the money you could make from doing it.
The global tech sector has never been in this position before – leading enormous change at the most basic levels of the way we live and work. It has a lot to learn. Google, Facebook, Uber and others are starting to see early glimpses of the backlash that could threaten their futures if they carry on this way.
It’s easy to say that the tech sector needs to step back and make ethics as much a part of the change it foments as the technology it creates. It’s much harder to make that happen.
But here, change has to start from the bottom – everyone in tech needs to ask themselves, what I can do to be more ethical, and to make sure the digital revolution is focused on the positive changes it can bring to our lives.