Smart, connected devices have already had a huge affect on people, culture and the workplace. However, we haven’t even begun to see the disruptive potential of IoT innovation. According to a forecast by Gartner, Inc., 5.8 billion edge devices will be deployed in 2020. There’s no question that IoT innovation will change society permanently — and, ideally, for the better.
Virtually all disruptive technologies can reinforce biases and systems of oppression. However, IoT innovation can also create social change by improving global access to health care, education, justice and transportation. Tech leaders have a chance to create a meaningful impact on global communities by committing to socially responsible IoT innovation. The IoT revolution is a chance for individuals and organizations to address inequity. It’s time to adopt a more responsible framework for IoT innovation and commit to removing barriers for others.
Why IoT Innovators Should Be Optimistic About The Future
The idea of self-sufficiency is woven deeply into the cultural fabric of our communities and workplaces. However, the events of 2020 have created an immediate need for tech leaders to reevaluate long-held beliefs and practices. A self-sufficient mindset can be dangerous if it prevents tech leaders from listening to new perspectives. Cooperation is the only way technologists can tackle the most challenging problems of today and tomorrow. Luckily, there’s no shortage of reasons to be optimistic about the potential for connected devices.
Current public health conditions have accelerated student device initiatives in global primary education. Secure deployments of student tablets with connectivity can ensure that learners from all backgrounds have a safe way to engage with teachers and peers while dramatically improving opportunities for underprivileged students. Assistive mobile hardware and software can also improve inclusion for students with disabilities.
The pandemic’s continued weight on health care organizations has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine. Forrester predicts patients will attend over 1 billion virtual health care visits in 2020. A richer ecosystem of remote health care can dramatically improve access, costs and outcomes for underserved populations and individuals with chronic disease states.
Finally, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of smartphones and other IoT technologies within criminal justice. Connected devices are helping community supervision officers safely supervise individuals who have been released into the community from a distance without sacrificing oversight. IoT monitoring can lower the costs of community custody, according to the National Institute of Justice, and it can create healthier reentry for recently incarcerated people.
Tech leaders can help create a lasting impact with innovation by improving internal diversity, cooperating outside the organization and removing barriers for tomorrow’s talent.
1. Understand the complexities of ‘good’ IoT. Technology isn’t ethically neutral because humans build and supervise it. Smart, edge device deployments reflect the values of the designer and developers, which is why they can do unintended harm to underprivileged populations. There are numerous real-world examples of biased algorithms that discriminate against people of color and women in hiring, promotions, lending, education and more.
Hiring a team of well-meaning IoT innovators isn’t enough. Organizations should immediately improve their depth of perspectives into the needs of diverse communities worldwide. This requires diverse talent and a collaborative, inclusive environment. IoT ethics is complex, but luckily, tech leaders can control against biased or irresponsible IoT by collaborating. IoT innovation for the greater good requires teams of design thinkers with broad perspectives. I believe improving diversity is the only way to prevent well-intended IoT technologies that create unintended harm.
2. Support cross-functional discussions. Self-sufficiency is a barrier to reaching the potential of IoT innovation within organizations and societies. It’s time for tech leaders to become public interest technologists and join discussions with nonprofit organizations, think tanks and lawmakers. Tomorrow’s smart cities, schools and homes are powered by IoT. The only way to create thoughtful, effective frameworks for responsible IoT is through full cooperation between experts, ethicists and legislators to protect the public interest.
3. Remove barriers. Tech leaders have the privilege to make decisions about the talent, partnerships and vendors that fuel IoT innovation. This position of decision-maker can be a powerful place to remove barriers for tomorrow’s talent to participate in schools and the workplace. Donating resources and time to help disadvantaged students learn STEM skills and tinker with IoT devices can create a richer pipeline of talent for the future. Tech leaders also have the opportunity to apply ethical standards to business relationships and pursue new partnerships with businesses owned by women and people of color. Finally, tech leaders have a chance to close the pay and participation gap by using data and listening to understand the experience of women, people of color and LGBTQ+ employees.
Ultimately, tech leaders have a privilege and responsibility to create an inclusive workplace environment where socially responsible IoT innovation thrives.
It’s Time To Commit To Socially Responsible IoT Deployments
The IoT and other disruptive technologies aren’t ethically neutral. Edge devices can uphold oppressive practices and reflect human bias. Connected devices can also dismantle barriers and improve equity, especially when they’re deployed by diverse, inclusive teams.
There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the IoT’s potential to improve education, health care and other systems for global communities. Tech leaders from all industries can create a brighter future by committing to socially responsible IoT innovation.