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The Bridges Retreat 2018: The ‘seatbelt moment’ for digital disruption

Bridges Publications and Articles

Society no longer expects unbridled good from digital technology. Alongside many positive impacts, digital technology has also brought about a crisis of disinformation and conspiracy in online spaces. The mental health effects of addictive architectures are becoming particularly pronounced in young users of social media, abuse and hate speech have become a common feature of online interaction, bias and discrimination have seeped into automated decision-making systems, mass data collection and the inferability of highly personal details from behavioural data have created an infrastructure of advertising-driven manipulation, and wealth and power have been further concentrated into the hands of very few.

In light of this, a wave of scepticism has directed widespread attention to the potential negative impacts of digital technology and the unchecked power of big tech firms. The behaviour of these tech firms and of those tasked with regulating them is beginning to reflect this shift in attitudes, with the rightful examination of the broader ethical, social and political impacts.

There is a growing demand for a shift to social responsibility and ethical design as a core component of digital technologies and applications – though it is worth noting that this is both aimed at cleaning up the damage so far and preventing further harm. In a recent blog, Sara Holoubeck defined the current mood as a ‘seatbelt moment’, where thanks to widespread awareness and a growing political will, a consensus is being reached that acknowledges certain minimal safety requirements and ethical standards for digital technologies that have the potential to significantly impact society.

From a broadening consensus in academia and thought leadership, through increasing public awareness and market demand and in response to the prospect of blunt-force regulation, ethics and social responsibility have been rightfully – and belatedly – designated as central to the design and application of digital technology.

Please download our full article on the ‘seatbelt moment’ for digital disruption below. 

Additional resources on this topic (links):

Sara Holoubeck’s ‘seatbelt moment’ blog entry
Omidyar Network and Institute for the Future, Ethical OS
O’Neil Risk Consulting and Algorithmic Auditing