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Ethical Technology Still in Early Stages, But Here to Stay, Say Axios Panelists

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Salesforce Chief Ethical and Human Use Officer Paula Goldman courtesy of Salesforce

August 6, 2020 — Although many ethical technologies are still in early developmental stages, they are here to stay, said participants in an Axios webinar Thursday.

The webinar, titled "Ethical Tech in a Time of Crisis,” saw participants discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the ways in which technology companies have adapted to the coronavirus.

Paula Goldman, chief ethical and human use officer at Salesforce, said that her studies in the field have led her to believe that movements toward tech responsibility are here to stay.

“I got a PhD and studied how unorthodox ideas become mainstream and what I would say is that this is definitely a movement,” she said. “But we’re in the early inning.”

Goldman suggested that people look to the past for examples of how such changes take place.

“I am optimistic that this work will keep scaling and that we will emerge,” she said. “Just like, for example, 20 [or] 30 years ago we had a security crisis and we emerged with new protocols and tech. It’s the early days for ethical use and that’s where we’re heading, but we all have to keep working at it.”

However, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said that places like South Korea have not used technology responsibly in their approach to monitoring the coronavirus.

“They had a very open process, which gave almost no attention to privacy,” he said. “They collected credit card data, they collected a location data, they used facial recognition software and video monitoring and they made all of this public, and it was an absolute disaster. And people were ostracized because they were identified as coronavirus infectors.”

Former U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil said that tech companies have a special responsibility with great stakes, and that tech platforms have to clarify their policies.

“It’s no small statement to say this is life or death,” he said. “The platforms have responsibility right now to figure out what is the right level of action. At a bare minimum, it is creating stricter standards for how and what is allowed on a platform.”

In order to make progress, Patil said, tech companies should look to time-tested solutions.

“We need to stop focusing on the super sexy technologies like machine learning and rather focus on the bare basics,” he said.

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