The Initial Consultation
In late September 2018 - as part of our Federation Pledge Series - we undertook an initial consultation on tech displacement. Working with social impact consultancy Noisy Cricket to generate a clear view of our purpose and focus as an organisation, we then worked with members to understand the tech ethics issues and challenges they wished to collectively address.
As an increasingly pressing issue, defining tech displacement and providing a decision-making tool for use in creating and innovating in tech was seen as fundamental to our community of tech pioneers and social change-makers.
So, bringing together a working group of tech start-ups, educators, investors and academics, we asked ourselves some key questions regarding tech displacement and the scope of the issue we’re looking to better understand.
Our initial findings are summarised below, with key questions which will underpin the next stages of the project.
From Noisy Cricket’s initial research, we found the conversation around tech displacement is most often contextualised alongside the changes during both the agricultural and industrial revolution. In considering whether the tech revolution is creating or extracting value, understanding the historical precedent set across industry and society is essential.
That, as well as how the changes we’re seeing in the way we live and work is simply disrupting markets or displacing humanity. Offsetting impact is seen as key to balancing tech displacement, though with job displacement most often referenced, how this works for displacement of communities (the loss of high street banks due to banking apps for example) is lesser understood. This left us with some questions:
The two major considerations in tech displacement come down to the impact on human rights versus the potential for capital gain. Generating profit and reducing costs through tech innovation can impact on people’s security (affordable housing as a result of AirBnB’s growth in cities as a case in point) or sense of belonging, but the bigger picture requires us to ask questions of the consequences on individual choice.
In that context, tech innovation can both displace and replace. No one tech creation is wholly good or wholly bad, and both positive (e.g. education accessibility through Open University) and negative outcomes need to be taken into account.
The consequences of tech displacement are wide reaching and impact both the short and long-term. AI and robotics have the potential to immediately displace jobs in manufacturing and distribution for example, but healthinnovation is allowing for genetic testing, which enables people healthier and longer lives.
Many displacement issues intersect with others. Whilst innovation around transportation is improving mobility, through Uber for example, there are concerns around working conditions too. Communication innovation is also a complex issue. Social media has opened up conversation globally but removed in real life connection.
With both industries – email has long been recognised as impacting the postal service – and communities disrupted by tech, quite simply, the challenge boils down to who benefits and whether tech is being created for people or profit. Beyond the impact on the systems that society functions through, and the personal impact on people’s lives, culture is essential to consider also.
Opportunities and Challenges
Looking beyond the role which organisations and citizens play, we also need to look to governments and regulators, and their ability to influence systems, cultures and people. With tech innovation impacting both society and the economy, the power that lies with tech creators requires balance, but the questions remains how to achieve it.
Our Next Steps
We need your help in defining displacement and creating a decision-making tool, so here’s how you can get involved.
We need more information on the following.
We’ll be coming together towards the end of October to share the mapping of the insights we found. That, and co-creating a definition of the tech displacement, as well as a decision-making tool for tech organisations to use when innovating and creating tech.