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Tech must be a force for good

VMware CEO shares his belief that the industry has a responsibility to use technology as a positive force in society

Pat Gelsinger has become the latest tech CEO to share a personal belief that IT needs to be a force for good in society and the economy.

The VMware boss has joined a growing list of tech leaders who have in recent weeks and months expressed a view that great changes are coming, thanks to AI and automation, and these have to benefit people, rather than be used aggressively in the pursuit of profits and increase unemployment and inequalities.

In September, at Dreamforce 2018, Salesforce founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff argued for what he called “inclusive capitalism” and urged the technology industry to set the highest possible ethical standards. In the same month Microsoft boss Satya Nadella used his keynote at Ignite to talk about the importance of sharing the wealth of digital transformation.

In his keynote at VMworld Europe Gelsinger talked about a need to recognise that profits were not the only motivator and using technology for good was something that he was personally committed to.

One example was around efforts to be greener and the targets that VMware had set to become carbon neutral by 2020, which he revealed the firm had beaten by reaching that state now. But Gelsinger also talked beyond what VMware was doing and more generally about how technology can change lives for the better and help reduce poverty and inequality.

"There is a fundamental dilemma of people or profit and can we do both of these at the same time? Milton Friedman famously said that the sole purpose of business is to make profit. There is some truth to that and if the business isn't being profitable and successful nothing matters. But if you are being profitable and successful then everything matters," he said.

"We have to do better and do good and technology is permeating every aspect of society today, so we have a responsibility to do both," he added "We are committed to doing well and doing good and we need to do that as a company but we need to do that as an industry as well."

"We think of technology and our opportunity to shape it as a force for good. Because technology in its basic form is almost always neutral, it is neither good or bad. The Gutenberg printing press could produce mass education materials or extremist propaganda. The printing press was neutral. Almost every technology since then has been the same, neutral. It is our job and our responsibility to be a force to shape it for good. Today this opportunity is greater than ever before," he said.

He ended his speech with a rallying cry for the partners and customers in the audience to change the world using the 'superpowers of technology': cloud, mobile, IoT and AI.

"Our opportunity is to shape these technologies to change your business but also to change society. That we get to shape technology and drive it as a force for global good. I believe we can successfully extend the lifespan of every human on the planet, I believe together that we can eradicate chronic diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries, we can lift the remaining ten percent of those living in extreme poverty, we can reskill every worker for the age of the four superpowers, we can give modern healthcare and education to every child on the planet and that we can reverse the impact of global climate change," he said.

Force for good

There is a growing theme in the industry that tech must be used for good and vendors can take a lead in demonstrating what that looks like.

At Dreamforce Benioff got the chance to reference the supplier’s newly established office for ethical and humane use of technology with a recommendation that every firm made sure it was accountable for its moral values.

“We must ask, what is your highest value? In a world where technology is taking us over, we all have a higher responsibility to ask that question, especially as AI gets released into the world. We have restructured our company to have an office of ethical and humane use of technology, and every CEO better be ready to answer that with their values," he said.

Speaking just a matter of hours later at Ignite Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella also talked about a need to ensure the fruits of the next tech wave were properly shared.

“The work we all collectively do to advance the state of the art of digital technology, reshape our own companies and reshape our own industries, gives us one additional opportunity, which – in the end – is perhaps more important,” he said.

“And that is the opportunity to ensure the surplus that gets created by digital technology is equitably distributed throughout our economy and throughout our society, because that is what we need," he added “Just any one industry, any few companies, [or] any few countries getting ahead is not just going to be the solution. What we do need is a real concerted effort to ensure this next big revolution, driven by technology, creates more equity for more people across the globe.”

The sense of responsibility that some industry leaders also extends to helping those that will lose their jobs because of technology, with some tasks being handled by AI and automation.

Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO at CompTIA, has spoken about a need to help people retrain and for more to be encouraged into tech positions to help fill some of the industry skill gaps.

"The industry is going to be facing a lot of challenges in the future. we have all these new technologies like AI, robotics, VR, machine learning, autonomous vehicles that have the potential to displace lots of workers and our industry is going to have to be part of the solution," he told MicroScope a year ago.

"Where are these people going to go to work?" he asked "We have to figure out what the new jobs are that don't exist today."

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