Time for a responsible technology charter?

24 April 2017

As the pace of technological change continues to move up through the gears, so do the number of questions being asked of it. What will happen to people as more of the things we do every day – at work and at home – are automated? How do we maintain trust in an era of instantaneous, unedited ‘news’? Will technology solve health issues, or cause others? Who owns and has access to personal data?

This sparks interesting discussion, often pitting people against technology or polarising opinions about whether technology is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But, are any of these issues really that clearcut? Surely, the reality is far more complex.

One thing is certain. Technological development won’t slow down. The scale and speed of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ means that it will offer both opportunity and risk in equal measure. Technology has the potential to be both Jekyll and Hyde. So, perhaps the question we should be asking is how we can both maximise the benefits of technology and minimise the risks?

In my view, you can only do this if you think of how technology affects your whole business. If technology is implemented to solve one business problem without regard for the wider implications and the bigger picture, we risk ripple effects causing unintended consequences in other areas.

Technology heralds radical change to the way we live and work. It also presents opportunities to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, as we recently set out in our recent report ‘Innovation for the Earth’, published at the World Economic Forum in Davos. We need to recognise that some of these benefits also come with trade-offs. For every task that can be done by a robot, we need to consider the human impact - not only how it will affect people's jobs, but also their privacy, security and wellbeing. We must also look at the impact on wider society and the environment. Only after considering all of these factors can you answer whether technology is the right solution to your problem.

As a first step in addressing the challenge here, PwC has developed a Responsible Technology Policy which we hope will foster debate on how business can help ensure technology works for people and planet, as well as driving economic value. We think there are four main areas to consider: jobs and skills; health and wellbeing; privacy, security and integrity; and the environment. For example, investing in training to help our people develop the tech-related skills for the future world of work, promoting the healthy use of technology, including the importance of ‘digital dieting’, and harnessing new technologies to minimise our environmental impact.

For us, we hope the policy will provide our people with a framework that prompts them to consider all the impacts of technology - good and bad - in their everyday decisions. We expect the policy to evolve over time but believe it provides a useful checklist of principles and actions that can help steer us through the technological transition ahead.

Beyond PwC, though, I hope it stimulates discussion among many more businesses and organisations about how they use technology. Perhaps, it’s the perfect time to create a Charter for Responsible Technology for business, to ensure technology works for everyone.   

Jon Andrews

Jon Andrews | Head of Technology and Investment
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