Maybe the question is "what should you do?" not "what could you do?"
Recent news touts Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that they’re changing the newsfeed algorithm to “.. focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions," a focus, they say, on the community. The New York Times in an interview last Thursday dug a little deeper. Zuckerberg was quoted, “It’s important to me that when Max and August grow up that they feel like what their father built was good for the world,” You know what else I noticed? Facebook’s stock plummeted 5% overnight.
Imagine with me that you’re a new entrepreneur; an entrepreneur who’s raised capital for a company to grow and “change the world.” Investors expect a return. Imagine for a second you, like Zuckerberg, have decided that your product might be putting profit over people. Imagine for a second your product was a benefit to today’s consumer but could jeopardize their safety, security in the future. (Just watch any episode of Black Mirror , and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.) Because we are bumping up to a technical future where almost anything we want to build we probably can.
All this imagining raises the question: Is our adherence revenue and profit over mission and values point us towards a future we don't intend?
Seriously, what society do we envision? A Blade Runner future, a Mad Max future, or a Star Trek future? It might just be the result of my age, but most of the people I ask suggest the dystopian civilization similar to Blade Runner. Doesn’t that worry you? Even just a little?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating going back to the “old ways” and halting innovation and change. Hang out with me at all, and you’ll know that I’m very excited about machine learning, blockchain, self-driving technology and all the magical personalized technology in development today. I want it all.
But in that all, I also want someone in your companies and organizations to be responsible and empowered to think about the future us. Someone not beholden to the bottom line, someone not accountable to the investors. Companies need a head of ethics to partner with the head of innovation. Imagine the question wasn’t “what could we build” but “what should we build.” The winner being people, not pennies.
This ethicist can bring reason and thought to potential societal effects without concern for the bottom line. She can bring insight to the effects on all generations and the possibility of unintended consequences before products launch. An ethical voice infuses innovation with humanity.
I know, it’s not a small ask for my all. But I worry. I worry that if the next Facebook founder waits this long to realize that their first “baby” might harm their real babies that it will be too late, too late because everything is moving faster.
Which future do you want?
PS. If you're a CEO, who wants to be one of the first to include an ethics lead on your team I have several suggestions.