The WebSummit highlights how we can use technology to find opportunities in the most different industries : transportation, travel, marketing, health, finance… It’s all about innovation and entrepreneurship. But, while thousands of companies were showing off their latest lightsaber or their space mining techniques (Moon Express), it was also possible to follow some interesting debates of the “meta challenges” IT industry is facing. Is the industry lacking diversification?, What are the advantages and disadvantages of offshoring?, How far should we follow user community feedback?, Is Technology taking our jobs?, How ethical are we with our big data? were just some of the discussions happening. Let’s focus on the two last ones.
Is technology taking our jobs?
We are on the verge of a new revolution. Today, computers are able to achieve things that were unimaginable 5 years ago. Autonomous cars are no longer Sci Fi, but an existing technology (Web Summit 2016 – Autonomous Driving: the Holy Grail of the future?), chatbots are becoming more than a trend (« Chatbots » ou L’AI grand public); Amazon (among others) is investing in automatic farms, where their vision is to replace the traditional farmer by a “gentleman farmer”, who stays in the office monitoring all the “intelligent” machinery – that does all the hard work by itself.
All this might sound exciting to a technophile, but we have to start thinking about the social consequences, and how to act on them. Taxi drivers are already facing big challenges. More than 3.5M truck drivers fear losing their jobs in the coming years. The typical call center is being replaced by software (e.g. TalkDesk). Factories are becoming more and more autonomous.
It’s not clear to anyone what the real social consequences will be, but discussion is already in place. A basic universal income might be a solution, if we accept there won’t be work for everyone. But this debate is as old as the industrial revolution. And since then the technology itself has been allowing the creation of new markets and industries, which, of course, need man power (e.g. Facebook employees more than 10K people). In any case, a change is coming and we will have to start teaching our children a new set of skills, more suitable to the coming years – more focus on empathy and adaptability.
Big Data Ethics
If a given user, for example, buys something online, the website will store all the information they can about him. And they will keep that information for as long as they want, even if they don’t need it … which is often the case !
Why shouldn’t they? Disk memory is virtually free, and that data might be useful some day, for something… And it might be OK, if the user agrees with it beforehand and if he’s assured that all this information won’t be shared, misused or misinterpreted. Regulation starts to appear – mainly in France, but a bit all over Europe. However too many restrictions will scare away investment and inhibit the innovation. I believe that instead of creating new restrictive laws, it’s up to the big players in the industry to be a role model, which others will follow. Google, Amazon, Facebook should be transparent with what they do with their data, they should provide simple and clear terms and conditions, and follow them strictly. And while doing it they should provide guidelines for others to follow.
We, at Equancy, also think about ethical data practices. Some of the good practices we are currently implementing are to mask irrelevant data (names, phone numbers), save data aggregation as much as possible (instead of discrete data) and keep the data just as long as necessary. This attitude can be seen as a mean of gaining trust and demonstrating organizational integrity, which is priceless.