Algorithms and Ethical Technology


Algorithms and Ethical Technology

February 20, 2019


Most of us don’t hide important aspects of our life from technology – sensors, wearables, and assistants are tracking our daily routines, locations, and heart beats. Are we ready for technology to dive even deeper into our lives?

We understand many of the benefits but have been less excited about exploring the repercussions. As a society, we have started to explore the impacts of our technology; addictive app behaviours or the loss of joy being reported by social media users as they compare themselves to others.

Jaron Lanier, a scientist at Microsoft, talks a lot about the unintended consequences of technology. He suggests that algorithms built into social media platforms are leading to a negative boomerang effect. The algorithms are amplifying negative emotions, leading to greater distance between groups as people become more entrenched in a single position. Some examples of the negative boomerang effect on society include Arab Spring and ISIS or Black Lives Matter and Neo Nazi group participation. Listen to the CBC podcast here for more details about the negative boomerang effect as Lanier terms it.

As we continue to integrate technology, there is a greater need to evaluate the outcomes of our technology and services not just from a profit perspective. Also a longer term view and a broader perspective that opens a discussion about the values that we want to support with technology. We have seen that technology opens new opportunities and options for people. It can also reaffirm and entrench systemic barriers. It is better for us to deliberately think about the values we want to support or else we may accidentally take several steps backward as a society.

At Impact Signal we believe it is important for companies to start having these value conversations in house. For example, one of the things we discuss with clients is value-based measurements like Trust. Do customers trust that your service has their best intentions in mind? We break this down into questions and actions that can be evaluated and assessed by a company.


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