Corporate responsibility is tantamount to success for brands and businesses in the modern era, and with the acceleration of technology throughout business functions, new research from MIT Technology Review Insights explores how organizations understand responsible technology use, what has motivated them to adopt more responsible practices, and what benefits they hope to achieve from this adoption.
According to the firm’s new report, The State of Responsible Technology, produced in association with global technology consultancy Thoughtworks, nearly 75 percent of business execs surveyed agree that, eventually, companies’ technology decisions will account for ‘responsible use’ just as much as business and financial implications.
“Responsible tech is about exploring—and actively considering—the values, unintended consequences and negative impacts of the tech we create and deploy, and actively managing and mitigating risk and harm,” said Dr. Rebecca Parsons, chief technology officer at Thoughtworks, in a news release. “We should all strive to reach a state where technology doesn’t exploit us—it supports us. This research shows that more and more companies recognize this new dimension of the way we live and work.”
Key findings include the following:
Responsible technology use is a subject of great interest across industries
Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents either strongly agree (30 percent) or somewhat agree (43 percent) that “responsible technology considerations will eventually come to equal business or financial considerations in importance when organizations make decisions about technology use.”
Organizations expect responsible tech investments to pay off in boosted brand reputation and customer and employee retention
When asked about tangible business benefits of adopting responsible technology, the top three responses were better customer acquisition/retention (47 percent), improved brand perception (46 percent), and prevention of negative unintended consequences and associated brand risk (44 percent). Closely following these top three were attracting and retaining top talent (43 percent) and improving sustainability (43 percent).
No consensus on which responsible practices should take priority
Organizations name a wide range of focuses for their responsible technology practices, with inclusive design, data privacy, environmental impact, elimination of AI bias, and workforce diversification each in the top three for about half of respondents.
The majority of survey respondents’ organizations have some level of official policies in place for enacting responsible technology initiatives. Of respondents, 67 percent said their organization has methodologies, guidelines, or frameworks for implementing specific types of responsible tech. This was more common among public sector respondents than those working at financial services companies.
“The reach of technology is extending into more sensitive and complex arenas, from credit decisions and medical diagnoses to criminal sentencing. It impacts everyday interactions with ourselves, friends and family, as well as our employees, customers and citizens,” said Dr. Parsons. “It is no surprise that companies are thinking more about how they’re building more responsible technology rather than focusing solely on parameters such as convenience or cost.”
Organizations are both apprehensive about and appreciative of regulation surrounding responsible technology
Nearly one-quarter of respondents (23 percent) name adherence to existing laws, such as GDPR, or the anticipation of pending (and potentially further-reaching) regulation as a top motivation for adopting responsible tech practices. While some business leaders express trepidation about pending regulation, others cite it as important industry guidance.
The main barriers to adoption when embedding responsible tech more firmly in operations
- A lack of senior management awareness (52 percent)
- Organizational resistance to change (46 percent)
- Internal competing priorities (46 percent)
“As technology becomes a fundamental part of every business, and as we see consequences of its misuse play out, responsible technology use has become a critical business expectation,” said Laurel Ruma, global editorial director for MIT Technology Review Insights, in the release. “How companies interpret that obligation, however, and the degree to which their execution is matching up to their aspirations, is rapidly evolving.”
This new research follows the launch of Thoughtworks’ Responsible Tech Playbook, which provides companies with technology tools and techniques to identify strategies to be more inclusive, aware of bias, transparency and to mitigate negative unintended consequences. Using these approaches helps technologists examine their product and technology choices from multiple perspectives, increasing the likelihood that harmful consequences will be uncovered.
“At its core, the notion of responsible tech is about ensuring that everyone benefits from the deployment of technology,” Dr. Parsons added. “I’m encouraged by what I see in this report: today’s business leaders are not only starting to understand the urgent need for the responsible use of technology but they’re also seeing the solid, enterprise-enhancing reasons for doing so.”
The report draws on a survey of 550 senior executives and in-depth interviews with technology experts from organizations including H&M Group, MOIA, and California Polytechnic State University.