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Good in Tech: a chair to put responsibility and ethics into innovation

On September 12, the Good in Tech chair was launched with the aim of making digital innovations more responsible and ethical. The chair is supported by the Institut Mines-Télécom Business School, the School of Management and Innovation at Sciences Po, and the Fondation du Risque, in partnership with Télécom Paris and Télécom SudParis. This means that the Good in Tech chair combines human and social sciences, computer sciences and engineering. It aims to shed light on corporate governance decisions regarding digital innovation, and help businesses embrace new values for innovation. Christine Balagué, a researcher at Institut Mines-Télécom Business School and co-holder of the Good in Tech chair, tells us the importance of this initiative, as well as the research challenges and problems that companies face.

 

Why did you want to create a research chair on the ethics and responsibility of digital technologies?

Christine Balagué: The chair brings together complementary research skills. We are also establishing a multidisciplinary approach, by including both hard sciences and human and social sciences. Unlike existing research initiatives, which include a lot of hard sciences and little in the way of human sciences, the Good in Tech chair has the advantage of having a strong human science perspective. This means that the chair can address issues surrounding corporate responsibility, user behavior towards responsible technologies, modes of governance or possible futures.

Responsible digital innovation is one of our areas of study.  What are you currently working on in this area of study?

CB: Today, most companies have a corporate social responsibility or CSR policy. In most of these cases, CSR does not include many indicators on digital innovation, which is ironic since artificial intelligence, connected objects or big data are being developed in all sectors. Our work on this issue will therefore focus on developing CSR indicators for responsible digital innovation and proposing a measurement method for them.

Read on I’MTech: Innovation: to be or not to be responsible?

You’ve talked about measuring responsible innovation afterward, but can research also help to reflect on the responsibility of technologies beforehand, from the design stage?

CB: Of course, and this is the aim of a second area of study for the chair regarding responsible technologies “by-design”. We know that digital technologies, especially modern artificial intelligence, raise ethical issues: the algorithms are often non-transparent, difficult to explain, potentially discriminatory, and biased. For example, we know that in the USA, social media treats users differently depending on their political views or the color of their skin. Another example would be facial recognition technologies and recruiting algorithms, which are not transparent. Companies that develop artificial intelligence or data handling tools don’t always consider these issues. They end up with products that they market or use that have a major impact on consumers. We are therefore doing research into how we can make technology more transparent, explicable and less discriminatory from the beginning of the design process.

It’s also important for a research chair to involve companies in the discussion. Who are your industrial partners and what do they bring to your work?

CB: At the moment we’re working with five partners: Afnor, CGI, Danone, FaberNovel and Sycomore. These companies are all interested in digital responsibility issues. They help our work by opening their data, providing us with use cases, etc. They also allow us to understand the economic problems that companies face.

Do you plan on making recommendations to companies or public authorities?

CB: The main aim of the chair is to get articles published in the best scientific journals and to encourage research on the chair’s four areas of study. We are also considering publishing policy papers, which are scientific articles that aim to inform political and industrial choices. As well as these articles, one of the chair’s areas of study is dedicated to planning for the future.  We are going to organize conferences with students from Sciences Po and the IMT schools involved, which will aim to get students thinking about future prospects for responsible digital technologies. Similarly, conferences will be held for the general public in order to start the debate on possible futures. For example, we will propose scenarios such as: “In the future, these will be every-day technologies. How will they impact healthcare or how consumers buy things online?” The idea is to imagine the future in partnership with users of technology whilst involving people from all walks of life.

By helping people to make an informed decision, do you want to help define a framework for digital innovation governance?

CB: We are studying every possible mode of governance – which is the fourth and final area of study of the chair. This is so we can understand which level is most appropriate, whether it’s at company, national or European level.  In particular, we would like to study the importance of governance that is directly integrated into the company. For example, we want to see whether developing responsible technologies “by-design” would be more effective than international regulation. The aim is to integrate mechanisms of governance directly into responsible companies’ behavior, knowing that responsible digital innovation means that consumers would be more likely to buy from that company.

Are certain businesses reluctant to comply with this emerging trend for “tech-for-good”? And does this mean they are reluctant to comply with the notions of responsibility and ethics?

CB: The chair is working to defend a European vision of digital innovation. China is less interested in these issues, and major American institutions are working on these problems. However, the GDPR has shown that Europe can make regulations change; our regulations surrounding personal data have made an impact on people working in Silicon Valley. Businesses who are reluctant to comply with these regulations must understand that the more responsible technology is, the more they are accepted by consumers. For example, the market for health-related connected objects is developing slower than expected in Europe, due to consumers reluctance to use collected data. However, to ensure that it is accepted by companies, we have to make sure responsibility does not slow down innovation. Coupling companies’ digital innovation with consumers’ needs will undoubtedly be one of the biggest challenges of the chair.

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