Quarterly Exchange | Feature Story | October 2018

Signing on to Tech for Good

David Johnston leads the charge for tech ethics
Is technology amoral – simply a tool to be utilized? Or are developers and user of technology responsible for the outcomes caused by their tech tools, ranging from artificial intelligence to robotics to regenerative medicine.

In a talk given to the Centre for Family Business earlier this year, Communitech President and CEO Iain Klugman suggested that this is one of the biggest questions that we face.

He said, “Whereas in the past, we always have seen technology as good, now we are seeing a dystopian future. We are seeing companies that really aren’t accountable to anyone, who say ‘We’re going to do whatever we want.’”

That is unacceptable, suggested Klugman. And he added that while those attitudes may be common in Silicon Valley – often cited as the prime example of tech communities – Klugman suggested, “Maybe we don’t want to be Silicon Valley. Maybe we have a better kind of model.”

He pointed to the unique history of Waterloo Region, citing a unique “opportunity, to recognize what it is that has been a successful recipe for us in the past. We’re competitive and ambitious, but we are also community focused and we have values.”

Klugman not only cited the history of the region, he pointed to one of this region’s favourite sons – former University of Waterloo President and former Governor General of Canada, The Right Honourable David Johnston.

And Klugman was on hand some weeks later when Johnston unveiled the Tech for Good Declaration at the True North Conference. “Tech for Good” is the result of a collaboration between Communitech, The University of Waterloo, Deloitte, and the Rideau Hall Foundation, which is chaired by the former Governor General. “In this digital age, innovating for good needs to be more firmly and deeply fixed among all Canadian industries, companies and organizations. Our challenge as Canadians, then, is to create a culture in which everyone assumes the obligation to innovate for good,” said Johnston.

More than 100 Canadian firms initially signed on to the Declaration, which includes six commitments concerning the ethical actions of tech companies.

More than 100 Canadian firms initially signed on to the Declaration, which includes six commitments concerning the ethical actions of tech companies.

They include:

Build Trust and Respect your Data: We promise to manage and use your data like we would expect others to use our own. The use and sale of big data is the lifeblood of many advanced technologies such as AI and Machine Learning. We actively consider how this data will affect customers and our communities, and acknowledge that every stakeholder has the right to understand exactly how their data is being used. If that changes over time, we’ll tell you in a way that is simple to understand.

Be Transparent and Give Choice: We are committed to taking proactive steps to gain informed consent from individuals using our technology. Emerging technology has the potential to make significant improvements to quality of life, however we believe humans should be given the option to manually override the technology and have the final say. We won’t wait for policy and legislation to create meaningful mechanisms for transparency and consent.

David Johnston, left, with Communitech’s Iain Klugman.

Reskill the Future of Work: We acknowledge that the commercialization of new technologies will have a significant impact on jobs around the world. We believe that while technology will displace many jobs, it will also create an abundance of new opportunities and jobs. Our organization is steadfast to partner with others to reskill talent to pivot careers and actively build the workforce of the future.

Leave No One Behind: As an organization committed to using tech for good, we recognize our own biases and prejudices can be unconsciously incorporated in the creation and use of technology. We pledge to ask hard questions about our own prejudices, and deliberately incorporate diversity and inclusion into the creation and use of technology to ensure the benefits are accessible to every person, regardless of ethnicity, gender, economic status, age, geographic location, including Indigenous peoples on whose land we often work, live, and play.

“Tech for Good” as “a big idea we can all rally around.” – Iain Klugman

Think Inclusively at Every Stage: Ethics are not just an afterthought, add-on, or checklist to fill out at the end of a project. In all development and use of technology, we will consider the broader social context of our products and services, and make this consideration part of our ethos. This means not only thinking about diversity of race, gender, and class, but also taking into account environmental, social, and psychological impacts. Thinking inclusively is creatively cross-disciplinary; it involves not just the sciences but also the arts.

Actively Participate in Collaborative Governance: As emerging technology transforms our world, we pledge to actively collaborate with industry, consumers, governments, academia and society to make better and more ethical decisions. Our loyalty to using tech for good will support government to create new rules, policy and guidance concerning matters of privacy, transparency, inclusivity, accessibility and inequality before they become systemic problems.

Klugman sees these commitments as absolutely crucial to maintaining a healthy society in the midst of unprecedented societal change. He points out that everything is “shifting,” and this is not going to stop. He says, “The future is very, very uncertain. We’re going to have to change, we’re going to have to be skating with our heads up. We have to stay ready.”
And he sees “Tech for Good” as “a big idea we can all rally around.”

Publisher is Exchange Business Communication Inc.
No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher or Onyx Energy.

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ISSN 0824-45
Copyright, 2018.

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