Technology serving the common good

The technology could be likened to a coin with its two sides. One of them corresponds to the possibilities of life improvement, while the other represents the eventualities of deviation and abuse. So with every new application of a technology we toss a coin: What effects will it have? In general, the coin never falls on just one side. Repetitive and tedious tasks were automated, resulting in job losses for thousands of people but better working conditions. Communicating between individuals has never been easier, facilitating harassment, intimidation and threats. Algorithms manage to make decisions much faster… by repeating the same prejudices found in society.

This time of upheaval brings with it a plethora of technologies that were almost science fiction 30 years ago. Consequently, the question of technological evolution raises more and more ethical problems.

A strong desire for ethics

Does innovation always fall on the shoulders of a single person? We’ve often had the notion that great minds are the only sparks behind creations. We’ll be quick to cite Pasteur, Edison, or more recently Jobs or Musk for their achievements… forgetting that they only followed in the footsteps of designers before them. Also, we should know by now that the creator of Apple took advantage of other brilliant minds to achieve his goals, as did the owner of Tesla and Twitter.

Especially since nowadays we understand that innovation has different good and bad sides. This is how smartphones have become really powerful little pocket computers. However, rare earths are required to manufacture them, and the disposal of devices due to their rapid obsolescence causes serious global pollution. Even the business students surveyed admitted that they would not accept a position that made no sense to them and that 62% would reject joining a company without social and ecological commitment.

Yes for progress and improvement of life, but it must not affect only a small part of the population and it must take into account issues such as privacy, environmental responsibility, etc. So a movement seems to be developing for some time: that of techno for the common good. In fact, more and more thinkers and governments are considering rules and methods to make innovation more ethical. Whether young technology companies in Africa or nations at the forefront of AI like China, South Korea or European countries, everyone agrees that algorithmic and technological applications are good for the population.

Rethink all innovations

In what way would this happen? Many topics can be raised simply under the question of the user interface. In fact, for a long time everything was thought of as if everyone had perfect vision, hearing or color recognition. Today we know that this is not the case. Therefore, software or electronic game developers are thinking more and more about how to make their product usable for any disability. Whether it’s color blind modes, larger font sizes, or subtitles that indicate specific sounds, more people can now use technology tools.

When it comes to artificial intelligence issues, algorithms seem to be very good allies for analyzing medical research data. The American professor from Bangladesh also believes that AI could help to understand patterns, whether in epidemiological models or to dissect moments of distress in the population by counting the number of calls to emergency numbers; all approaches that could improve overall health and well-being.

Astrophysics has high hopes for these intelligences, capable of rapidly analyzing thousands of pieces of data to better study the universe and discover its laws. Finally, we know that AIs in education offer a way to support teachers in difficult administrative tasks or to help them to develop personalized modules or chat robots like Allôprof that immediately offer possible solutions to the student who writes his question on the website can offer .

These innovations therefore have all the potential to improve everyone’s daily life. On the other hand, it has to be accompanied by beacons, rules set up to prevent the bad sides from taking over. Laws against planned obsolescence or mandatory recycling programs for old electronics are already good approaches. A group in Germany is working to bridge the gap between audiences and algorithms. It offers greater transparency of use, strict regulations to ensure ethical use of AI, training and other means that facilitate public decision-making with this technology that benefits the public good.

The very fact that these questions are raised is already a very good step for future innovations that are more ethical and aligned to collective needs. However, the wishes should not remain just words. Everything must be accompanied by concrete actions in all areas, including education.

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