Emerging Technologies

5 traits of organizations that use tech responsibly

Office workers sitting at large table with laptops

New technologies present ethical dilemmas and opportunities for organisations. Image: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Daniel Lim
Senior Director, Scenarios, Salesforce
Ann Skeet
Senior Director, Leadership Ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University
Beena Ammanath
Board Member, Centre for Trustworthy Technology
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Emerging Technologies?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Behavioural Sciences is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Emerging Technologies

  • The rapid pace of emerging technologies is a real challenge for businesses.
  • Trust in technology is declining globally.
  • Report highlights organizational design principles that can drive more ethical behaviour in technology.

As new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and blockchain become mainstream, and their practical uses more pervasive, myriad new business opportunities will be created.

All too often, technology can have unintended implications; facial recognition software used inappropriately, or customer data sold for profit without the user’s knowledge, can create an environment of mistrust between makers, sellers and buyers.

Trust matters

Research conducted by Edelman shows that 66% of people worry that technology will make it impossible to know if what they're seeing or hearing is real. Consumers also believe that data privacy is critical, according to research by Deloitte, 53% of global consumers surveyed would never use a company’s products if their data is sold for profit.

Behaving ethically clearly matters when creating sustainable value. In fact, the concept of stakeholder capitalism was born from the idea that businesses can create lasting value for society by aligning their practices with the needs of all stakeholders, including the community at large.

Ethics add value

The ethical use of technology enables businesses to build trust and capture opportunities while also mitigating potential harm. Considering the ethics of how technologies are used isn’t just a philosophical discussion or a matter of legal compliance.

Organizations are learning that ethical lapses related to the development, deployment and adoption of technology can be costly, and that buyers—and in some cases, regulators—are turning their concerns into action through consumer boycotts.

In a report published by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Deloitte and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University “Ethics by Design - An Organizational Approach to Responsible Use of Technology", we examined how organizations successfully incorporating ethics into their use of technology are building stronger and more sustainable businesses that benefit both the bottom line and society as a whole.

Have you read?

We found five traits shared by organizations that use technology ethically and are willing to consider the potential harm to humans and humanity as part of their decision-making process.

1. Technical knowledge

Ethical deliberations often start with societal principles and values (e.g. human rights, fairness, etc). However, to fully assess the implications of a new technology requires a proportion of an organization’s workforce to have a strong understanding of fundamental technology concepts.

Combining technical know-how with voices from diverse backgrounds provides a pathway for organizations to consider the impact of the technology they are using. Decision-makers need to know what their organization’s technology does and how it works.

2. Social responsibility

Organizations successfully incorporating ethics throughout their use of technology—workstreams and decision-making—are those who amplify their awareness and acceptance of the company’s role in society beyond economic transactions. These organizations engage with social enterprises, assume social duties and hold themselves accountable.

3. Foundation of trust

These organizations are known for creating corporate cultures that breed trust amongst co-workers and customers. They achieve this by honouring the ethical concerns and moral arguments of all individuals, in situations that affect them or in which they have expertise.

4. Ethical deliberation

Organizations that excel in applying ethics to technology have a deliberate approach to making decisions and forming policy: they rely heavily on data; involve people who will be impacted by their choices; consider the downstream effects of their decisions; and when possible, share the thinking behind those decisions. By engaging those involved, a consensus on the right course of action often emerges.

5. Leadership commitment

Executive sponsorship is essential for the responsible use of technology. Rapid technological innovation creates new opportunities and risks to society. Leaders who develop a practice of ethical leadership model and teach empathy; create a strong sense of community internally; adhere to professional ethics; and are systems thinkers are more likely to create a growth mindset in their organization’s culture and encourage ethical behaviour. Ethical deliberation requires constant, iterative learning.

With disruptive technologies being introduced at breakneck speed, it’s essential for organizations to get ahead of ethical concerns. Cultivating a culture built on ethics requires not only a supportive environment but a structure that ensures human values are considered in every technological decision.

The report details steps and makes recommendations organizations can take to infuse technology ethics into operations through the use of behavioural economics concepts, empowering people throughout the organization to make choices that are in the best interests not only of the company but society as a whole.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Solar storms hit tech equipment, and other technology news you need to know

Sebastian Buckup

May 17, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum