Trust is a powerful asset for any business. With increased use of advanced technologies and their potential impact on society, trust will be earned by business leaders who develop and implement technologies in an ethical way that benefits us all.
According to a survey of 300 senior global executives conducted by Clifford Chance and Forbes Insights, executives recognize the benefits and risks of advanced technologies. More than a third (39%) say that the greatest opportunity resulting from tech-driven growth is a better quality of life. Other benefits include people developing new skills to engage with technology (37%), wealth creation (34%), new business models with better services and a more connected world (both 33%).
But these benefits must be weighed against huge question marks regarding social impact. Given the potential for technology to displace people from job markets, impoverishment is a concern for 30% of respondents, and almost a quarter (24%) are worried about the potential erosion of human rights and privacy.
“The sustainable use of technology is something every CEO needs to engage with, and fast,” says Jonathan Kewley, partner and co-head of the Clifford Chance Tech Group. “Customers, employees, shareholders and investors are paying more attention than ever to ethics and values. They care about doing the right thing. Not just what is legal, but what is right.”
“It’s common to see this discussed in the context of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles,” Kewley continues, “but technology has somehow been left off the list. This needs to change. At the creation or deployment of any new technology, businesses should have some basic, irreducible principles that will protect the people exposed to it. Think of this in the same way as building a car—if it crashes, it will protect the people inside. Safety is ‘designed in’—otherwise the product cannot go to market. In the same way, technology must be people-centered and ultimately protect, not harm.”
Workforces Of The Future: A Generation Destroyed Or Empowered?
The growth of advanced technology will have a massive impact on jobs. Economist Daniel Susskind argues in his new book, A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond, that we face a future when most human work will be displaced by machines and that we are vastly underestimating the negative effects of technology. The historian Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, paints an equally bleak picture involving the rise of a “useless class” of the jobless and the aimless.
Whether overall net job losses will materialize is a matter of debate. Some experts stress that technology advancements will lead to more job creation than elimination. The World Economic Forum, for example, says that while 75 million jobs will be displaced by machines and algorithms by 2022, 133 million new roles will be created.
The business leaders we surveyed are aware of the impact that tech-driven growth may have on employment—25% of executives surveyed expect that automation will lead to net job losses, and 20% recognize that their employees are concerned about the future of their jobs.
While businesses may not be addressing the future of jobs as a social issue, many are giving employees technology tools that make their jobs easier or are ensuring employees learn the technology skills they’ll need.
For example, at American Water, the largest U.S. water utility company, field employees helped develop digital tools that allow them immediately to reference their customers’ water usage, service information, potential water quality and meter problems and other data to help solve customer issues on the spot.
“Employees adopt[ed these] tools more quickly because they took part in developing them. We also get a tremendous amount of input about the needs of our customers from our frontline employees, and we put that feedback into these tools,” says American Water CEO Susan Story, asserting that strong employee engagement translates into customer satisfaction. “Utilizing our frontline employees and their input to develop these tools, and not have it be top-down, has made a world of difference.”
Businesses acknowledge that they cannot solve all the issues related to jobs, training and education by themselves. Roughly a third of executives surveyed believe that governments and lawmakers need to support tech-driven growth by introducing a basic universal income and obligatory training, reskilling and education requirements for businesses.
However, Renee McGowan, CEO Asia of human resources consulting firm Mercer, says, “Regulators and governments are not equipped at the moment to keep up with this pace of change across a broad range of industries. Organizations and regulators need to get far more deliberate about working together and recognizing that they’ve got these operating imparities.”
To learn more, read “Ready, Steady, Grow: Building A Sustainable Tech Strategy For The Next Decade.”