The pervasive use of technology is triggering a spirited debate on how new technologies should be managed and governed. As government struggles to keep up with the unprecedented speed and scale of technological change, companies are facing a crisis of trust amid the growing “techlash” and are increasingly being called on to self‑regulate the technology they are designing and deploying. This important challenge requires the engagement of stakeholders across the whole technology value chain, from the initial design and development to the sale of technology and its ultimate end use. Additional urgency is driven by the rise in employee activism on the ethical use of technology, as well as increased consumer awareness and demands.
In workshops, meetings and conversations convened by the World Economic Forum over the past year, leaders across the technology industry have acknowledged that their companies lack even a basic framework for grappling with how their products are designed and whom they should be sold to – and, in absence of a systematic approach, many of them are defaulting to reactive one‑off decisions. An urgent need exists for practical guides, based on proven models, that companies anywhere in the world can use to ensure that ethical considerations are integrated into company culture and processes. Those in charge of ethics at diverse organizations, many of whom who are in new positions, have benefited greatly from informal peer groupsconvened by the World Economic Forum over the past year to share experiences and best practices, and have expressed interest in expanding and deepening these interactions. They have also identified specific tools that would better enable them to do their jobs, such as evaluation schema, training curricula, organizational models and assessment frameworks. These tools are to be created through consultation with practitioners from business, government and civil society, and based on learnings from approaches piloted within companies today. Many companies would benefit from collaboration instead of building these tools by themselves.
Impact so far
Over the past year, the Responsible Design, Distribution and Adoption of Technology initiative has:- Created a community of “ethics executives” from over 40 leading technology companies, which has convened multiple times over the course of the year to share best practices and engage in collective problem-solving in a peer-level, confidential space- Designed and executed a survey together with Deloitte, IDEO and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics of over 100 “ethics executives” around the world to map the current state within technology companies and identify key gaps- Published a white paper, co-authored by community members, identifying different models for integrating ethics into the design, deployment and use of technology, as well as a series of articles from companies showcasing their approaches to creating an Office of Ethical Use and launching an Ethics Ambassadors programme- Identified, scoped and validated the need for 12 tools and frameworks that would improve and accelerate the work of these “ethics executives”- Launched a steering committee, including leaders from Deloitte, IDEO, Microsoft, Omidyar Network, Salesforce, Uber, United Nations, Workday and other key stakeholders