The Better Tech Symposium – technology’s impact on people and planet

23 November 2015 | ResolutionPossible

Friday 06 November was the Resolution:Possible Better Tech Symposium. The event was generously hosted by Interchange, a new coworking space for startups and entrepreneurs, based in Camden, London. This event was for people working in tech and entrepreneurs who don’t just want to make money, but also want to make the world a better place for everyone.

Why did we organise this event?

Better tech Symposium; tech industry; tech; technology; conflict minerals; tin;tantalum; tungsten; people; planet; Bandi Mbubi; Congo Calling; Marijn van de Geer; Resolution:Possible; Assheton Carter; The Dragonfly Initiative; Nic Jackson; notonthehighstreet.com; Natasha Pearce;

A first: members from the tech industry and beyond come together to discuss its implications on people and planet at Resolution:Possible’s Better Tech Symposium. From left to right: Bandi Mbubi from Congo Calling, Marijn van de Geer from Resolution:Possible, Assheton Carter from The Dragonfly Initiative, Nic Jackson from notonthehighstreet.com, Natasha Pearce from Resolution:Possible.

Thousands of tech events are organised every year all over the world, however we noticed that none of them give serious thought to the non-technological side of tech: the side that looks at people, society, existing economies and the environment.

Recent events in the technological, automisation and mechanics industries led us to believe that these kinds of issues do need to be looked at. We are concerned about the change of attitude in society that technological advancements bring. We see companies prioritising reputation and profit over integrity and consideration: incidents such as Volkswagen trying to hide the fact that their engines emit too much carbon dioxide into the air or Amazon’s Prime Now ‘Thought it: bought it’ campaign, delivering your order to you within an hour without considering the impact of producing, picking/packing and delivering these products to your doorstep.

However, companies need support in this. Going from a culture where profit, reputation and bottom lines are the priority, to a business which needs to incorporate a social and environmental into its strategy is not easy. Which is why we organised an event to encourage open, honest conversation about these kinds of developments. An opportunity to do some ‘out of the box thinking’, meet people from different industries or different industry branches, and the chance to say: we know there is a problem, we don’t know what the solution is, but let’s look at it together.We focussed on:

  • The impact of tech economy on existing economies
  • The impact of tech on social behaviour
  • The impact of tech on consumer expectations
  • The lack of knowledge by companies as well as consumers of how their technological products are made
  • An introduction to one of the aspects of the production chain of electronics: mining for metals used to build electronics

What did we talk about?

The disruption brought about by technological advancement to existing economies is nothing new

Nic Jackson; Martijn Tjho; Resolution:Possible; Not on the high street; notonthehighstreet.com; kwamecorp; tech; technology; better tech symposium

Conversation starters Nic Jackson from notonthehighstreet.com (left) and Martijn Tjho from Kwamecorp in conversation at the Better Tech Symposium.

Nic Jackson from notonthehighstreet.com talked us through changes to the jobs market brought about by technological advancements through the ages. His main argument: the disappearing of old and emerging of new jobs has happened before, and will keep happening. The example of Uber putting existing taxi drivers out of business was at the forefront of this discussion. But this sort of process it nothing new. What is new is that we can easily be spectators to these changes, much more so than in the past, for example employment loss during the Industrial Revolution. This is why it  is more on our minds and worries us more.

We concluded that the loss of existing jobs due to automation and technological advancements is part of life. The difference is that tech can enable changes to jobs, create new jobs, facilitate adaptation to new economies, and provide new skills. It can be a tool to help ensure there is opportunity and support for skills-based workers to adapt to new economies.

Re-establish a culture of caring

Access to information through tech can desensitise us (‘information overload’). However, the ability to be able to communicate with others and take social action online turns tech from a passive spectators tool into a tool that enables us to learn from each other, become inspired, feel supported and able to do things. Furthermore, because we now have access to information about actors who are conducting their business selfishly, we can take action. We can, for example, refuse to buy from – or use services provided by – companies that are not incorporating ‘the greater good’ into their business practices.

Tech – or rather: the people using tech, as pointed out by Martijn Tjho of Kawmecrop – in this sense can be responsible for the demise of a caring society, but at the same time provides a platform for consumers demand products and services from a company that cares about people and planet.

People need to be taught how to think

This sounds terribly condescending, but the vast majority of us don’t know how to process information properly. We search for information with a search engine, and read maybe the first five articles in our search results. These articles, however, are not necessarily providing us with complete, unbiased, reliable information. The top links in your search are usually simply the most popular, the most visited or the most paid for. If we are not aware of this, it can warp our perspective on the subject we are searching. With the world at our fingertips, we need to know how to navigate through all this information.

It was suggested that we all need to be taught how to search for our information. This was an interesting angle: the technology is there, we just need to know how to use it properly and remain a critical audience, not just accept what “Google tell us”. It is certainly a point that Resolution:Posible is interested to take further.

People do care

Another reassuring point was that although it may at times feel like big corporations are only after the money and don’t care about people and planet, there are also many companies, and especially individuals, who do care. It is important to remember that often people working in tech and using tech are not aware of any social or environmental damage the products and services may be doing. Once they are aware, however, many people are likely to change their  lifestyle to reduce negative impact. Three things we found need to happen moving forward:

  • There needs to be much more awareness about where our products are coming from. An example of this was the discussion around the metals needed for electronics Assheton Carter from The Dragonfly Initiative and Bandi Mbubi from Congo Calling.
  • In addition to that, there needs to be more awareness about the impact of new services available to us though tech, and we need to think: is this really worth it, considering the social and environmental impact it is having? (Amazon one-hour deliveries being an example)
  • People care, but don’t know what to do. So we need more conversation and innovation on how to do better as members of a society where everything we do impacts on someone or something somewhere in the world.

Contact us for a detailed summary of the Better Tech Symposium.

What are we going to do next?

Putting information to use

As the Symposium ran for an entire day, we accumulated an abundance of information. This will first of all need to be broken down into useful pieces of information for reference and tangible  actions. We will posting these for you over the next few weeks.

We also have several recordings from the day, which we will be putting together and posting on our YouTube channel soon. We will let you know when it’s up.

Members of the tech industry

Assheton Carter; Bandi Mbubi; Congo Calling; The Dragonfly Initiative; The Better Tech Symposium

Bandi Mbudi from Congo Calling (left) and Assheton Carter from The Dragonfly Initiative share their thoughts and experiences on the role of the growing demand of tech on political, economic and social developments in mineral rich countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Find out about the ‘middle men’ as Assheton and Bandi explained to us: smelters, SMEs, exporters, designers, developers; everyone behind the scenes in the making of tech. It would be incredibly valuable to get them to contribute to the conversation. Our next step would be to find out who they are and get into contact with them. If the Better Tech Symposium sounds like it has topics that you have something to say about: get in touch! We would love for you to attend the next Symposium.

Next symposium

All speakers and attendees of the Symposium showed a definite interest in continuing the conversations started throughout the day. We will be reconsidering the format and timing of the Symposium, so any suggestions are more than welcome. We will also be bringing in new topics as well as updates on previous topics.

Please accept our apologies for those of you who tried to watch our live-stream in the afternoon: we could not get the sound to work (very frustrating for a tech event!), so we will also be working on improving our live-streaming skills.

I have something to say about this!

Please let us know what your thoughts are so we can continue this conversation. You can email us for a chat, submit an opinion piece for our blog, or comment on our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profile. Either way we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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