Over the past couple of months, a group keen on progressing tech ethics came together under our “Federation Pledges” series, to define the broad, unwieldy and uncomfortable issue of tech displacement. Led by Lauren Coulman of Noisy Cricket – a social impact consultancy - we undertook a collaborative research project to realise the issues at play.
That, and define what displacement really is.
...Displacement goes simply beyond disrupting markets and industries to displacing people’s human rights and our universal needs."
Coming to understand that displacement goes simply beyond disrupting markets and industries to displacing people’s human rights (e.g. the right to earn a sufficient income) and our universal needs (e.g. the necessity of safety and security in our lives), we have the below group of people to thank for pulling together the research and insight that framed our now LIVE definition.
Annie Mbako (HeroWorx)
Aparna Ashok (Yunus Social Business)
Beena Puri (The Federation)
Bill Wilson (Kainos)
Emer Coleman (Co-op Digital)
Harriet Mallion (Northcoders)
Harry Bailey (Grow Inc)
Hector Rojas Jimenez (University of Manchester)
Joss Sessions (Slash Dot Studios)
Julian Tait (Open Data Manchester)
Laura Gordon (Innovate Her)
Natalie Jameson (HeroWorx)
Nathan Langley (Co-Op Digital)
Nicola Marham (SopraSteria)
Shelley Metcalfe (Digital Life Shills)
Steve Foreshaw Cain (ThoughtWorks)
Tash Willcox (Hyper Island)
Victoria Betton (MPact)
Zoe Breen (Care Labels for Humans)
Zulf Choudhary (Sparta Digital)
Helping us get under the skin of the key factors at play, we’ve shared our community’s top line findings of the issues and experiences underpinning displacement below:
Capital Gain and the Push for Profit
The need to protect technology innovation and the ability to compete in new and existing industries is a key argument for tech leaders wanting to fuel economic progress.
With tech often created in the abstract, and the pace of innovation outstripping regulation in a way we never could have imagined during the industrial revolution, tech organisations have unprecedented power and influence, creating monopolies over more than one industry."
Whilst the main conversation around displacement currently considers AI and robotics impact on jobs (and not just low-skill and low-income jobs either) – increased safety and productivity meaning less human mess and more efficiency and income – there’s more to offset than just removing the basic human right to receive an income.
Beyond creating “meh tech” which looks good but limited value for humanity and extracts more than it adds to the societies or industries it exists within, we now have tech impacting democratic processes and unfettered competition with no consideration for its indirect consequences.
With tech often created in the abstract, and the pace of innovation outstripping regulation in a way we never could have imagined during the industrial revolution, tech organisations have unprecedented power and influence, creating monopolies over more than one industry.
How do we keep up?
Human Rights and The Consequences for People
The need for consideration of human rights in design and development of tech problems is starting to emerge, as we realise the holistic impact of tech on individuals and communities as well as industries.
Beyond jobs and the right to earn a wage, the need to access affordable housing is an increasing cause for concern. More positive is how tech enables better healthcare and education opportunities but also, can negatively impact access to legitimate information and the ability to communicate if you don’t have access to technology.
Redundancies and gentrification are both issues that have been realised through historic changes in technology, science and politics, but the pace of tech innovation combined with government inability to keep pace with regulation is creating huge shifts in society. We’re seeing whole communities being excluded on account of tech, and rising populism fuelled by social media are prime examples.
Technology created with short term results in mind - from the venture capital-fuelled world of start-ups to chasing down the next quarter’s results – the long-term impact of tech is less considered. Little thought too is given to the bigger picture of human need, with the focus directly on the benefits for immediate users.
Universal Need and The Tech’s Purpose
If human rights already feel a stretch for development teams, our community were clear that humanity’s basic need, for safety and security, connection and belonging as well as meaning and fulfilment was being overridden by tech innovation.
With the cost of tech prohibiting some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society from accessing vital government services due to shifting provision online, and the shift from offline to online spaces to gather giving rise to safety issues we haven’t yet learnt to police, our outputs are exacerbating existing inequalities and fast.
As a result, the impact on the public and third sector, in supporting groups where discrimination and prejudice evidently exists, is even harder. When policy around online news regulation has still to catch up, and the public purse is struggling where an online sales tax – only just being implemented after almost 25 years of robust e-Commerce – might have come in handy.
… We have a long way to go to enable tech to work for all. Yet, with so much distance between tech creators and users, removing the need to face into the responsibility of its impact, and thinking only of how it impacts profit, or the industry you’re moving into or your intended audience, we’re causing as much displacement as we are disruption.
However, a better balance can be found.
We have a long way to go to enable tech to work for all. Yet, with so much distance between technology creators and users, removing the need to face into the responsibility of its impact, and thinking only of how it impacts profit, or the industry you’re moving into or your intended audience, we’re causing as much displacement as we are disruption. However, a better balance can be found."
We’ll be sharing the tech displacement tool we’re developing to help tech teams consider the bigger picture soon.
Watch this space.