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Future Decoded 2019: Tech For Good and AI Ethics

Gordon McKenna

Gordon McKenna
CTO, Public Cloud

In October, Ensono attended Future Decoded 2019, Microsoft’s biggest customer and partner event in the UK. The event hosted thousands of visitors from across the globe for two days of keynotes and expert discussions on the latest tech trends. Aside from the staggering size of the event, the thing that struck me was the focus on technology for good. Having worked in the industry for many years, this focus shouldn’t seem surprising. And yet, as we work with clients and partner to push the boundaries of innovation for business, we need to remain conscious of the impact our work has on consumers, citizens and society. Working with business, we need to ensure that our work has an impact on the bottom line, but we also have a duty to act as the guardians and teachers of innovation that has a positive impact beyond profit.

Technology can help tackle fundamental challenges from access to clean water to climate change.

Cindy Rose, Microsoft’s UK Chief Executive discussed technology as an enabler for improving lives in her keynote and Luca Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer echoed this sentiment sharing how technology can help tackle fundamental challenges from access to clean water to climate change.

A key focal point of Cindy Rose’s address was the concerns around AI ethics. She called on organisations to “design, develop and deploy the technology in a way that is ethical, unbiased and inclusive”. She urged companies to ensure artificial intelligence has a positive effect on the world with ethical frameworks around emerging technologies.

Despite some dubbing AI as hype, AI is being used everywhere. Large data sets, compute power and the cloud are an enabler for the democratisation of AI. All this is leading to the technology being able to help solve very complex human development issues and has great potential to help, not hinder humanity. AI is already being used to help combat human trafficking. The Indian project Track Child, for example, uses the latest face recognition technology to analyse and compare photos of missing children. The field of “climate informatics”, using AI for climate forecasting is also gaining momentum. It is clear that there is a positive flipside to the media frenzy around robots taking over the planet in a dystopian thriller plot.

However, businesses do need to understand AI and they have a duty to act responsibly. As a hybrid cloud MSP – helping businesses utilise the cloud for AI initiatives – we also have a responsibility to stay at the forefront of knowledge in this area, to guide and help organisations make sense of the value of the technology and how to use it without harm being inflicted, from unconscious bias to social manipulation and invasion of privacy.

A global AI framework will also help AI work for humanity rather than against it. Each year, the UN holds the AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits. However, we need action – we need a cemented global framework that ethical organisations sign up to.

According to a PwC report, AI will contribute $15 trillion to the global economy by 2030. There is a clear opportunity, but as an industry, we need to address the potential flaws head-on. It was encouraging to see Future Decoded used as a forum to discuss and debate this important topic – a topic that is shaping the future of our industry.

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