As I Reflect During Black History Month, Why Technology for the Good Matters

As I Reflect During Black History Month, Why Technology for the Good Matters - –


As we reach the middle of Black History Month I am left to reflect on the question of technology and the impact on the lives of African Americans.  I was in a meeting recently discussing AI, when I brought up the issues with bias in artificial intelligence, when someone responded that there would always be some form of bias in AI.  Today, to name a few examples, bias in AI can be linked to:

Discrimination in the processing home loans for African Americans
Racial discrimination in recruiting and hiring
Redlining in insurance, costing African American families million dollars each year

As tech companies struggle to embrace diversity efforts in hiring, they cannot afford to ignore issue of diversity, equity and inclusion in their products and strategies. Embracing innovation without vetting out its impact on all members of society fully, has real consequences for the economic and social realities for individuals.  As technology leaders, we must eradicate barriers created by technology, if we are to counter disruption. Failure to do so, leads to greater social fractures.
Great Social Fractures
While it is difficult in these polarizing times to reach a near majority on any topic, nearly half (48%) of the respondents to a Gartner 2021 survey felt that digital business would lead to increased social fractures and divides. Tech companies are facing pressure to minimize the apparent harm their products and services bring to society, the environment, and mental and physical well-being of  people. Overall, the survey’s results revealed that there is a strong perceived nexus between business and society. The discord between tech and society, can be overcome when innovation centers on building tech for the good of society.

What is Technology for the Good?
Technology for the good must be seen as a discipline of reconciling society and technology so that they are mutually beneficial. It should also enable the following:

Equity—Creating fair access and opportunities and raising equitable social and economic standards for all members of society.
Safety—Eliminating and mitigating risk, danger, harm, or injury to humans and the environment.
Sustainability — Developing technology and innovative products and services that address natural resources while concentrating on and cultivating economic and social development.

Too often, definitions of technology for the good, such as “tech companies that aim to deliver a positive impact on the world around us,” are overly simplified. Technology for the good demands a complete extension of the current product strategy paradigm that has traditionally relied on usability, adoption metrics, and security as the baseline for success. Instead, safety, sustainability, and equity are paramount.  In addition, Voice of Customer is only one of many stakeholders.

Each member of a technology organization is responsible for the good or bad impacts their technology has on society. Tech companies can minimize disruption by extending beyond the voice of the customer (VoC) and listening to employees, partners, suppliers, investors, and society. Those tuning into the VoC alone run the risk of regulatory, societal, and environmental disruptive forces.

In 2022, we will continue to dive into social, environmental, and economic forces by shifting the technology paradigm from one driven by the VoC, user metrics, and adoption to a paradigm that considers the consequences of ESG, societal benefits, and safety.

Real Equity Starts With Re-Thinking Products and Services
Real equity will not be gained by hiring and retention practices alone. Many tech companies must bridge a digital divide that is deeply steeped in systematic bias in their products and services. We must change our thinking. It’s not a loan application software built on AI; it is a solution that is a stepping-stone to generational wealth for families, that happens to use AI. Accepting that some form of bias will always be part of a solution fails to recognize the economic, social, and political impact on members of society and particularly its role in systemic racism.
Recommended Reading
Quick Answer: What Is Technology for the Good?

Maverick* Research: How Product Management Drives the Demise of Digital Giants in Three Acts

Overcoming the Digital Divide: How Product Managers Can Reach More Women Users

Gartner Global Scenarios: Plot Your Strategy on How to Sense and Respond to Social Fracture