Push to keep society ‘in the loop’

Written by Julian Blake, Editor at DigitalAgenda

Responsible tech think tank Doteveryone has launched a new drive to ensure civil society and social sciences are brought in and kept ‘in the loop’ on how digital technology is developed and directed. Julian Blake reports.

Untitled designThe Doteveryone #InTheLoop push, supported by the Ada Lovelace InstituteCivil Society Futures and others, was launched at a one-day conference at south London’s Foundry last week, at an event that brought together the social sector, tech and social science communities.

Doteveryone created #InTheLoop to “build the knowledge, understanding and relationships necessary to support society to be in the loop of how technology is developed and directed”.

The event featured debates on the social impact of technology on the areas of law and justice, vulnerable consumers, democracy, poverty and inequality, and human rights.

Natalie Fenton of Civil Society Futures said a one-year inquiry into change and civil society had found that most people had no faith that new technology works in their favour.

Annika Small of tech-for-good agency CAST, argued that “the digital revolution has been hijacked” by big tech interests, with a “fundamental disconnect” between tech and the social sector. She urged tech companies to allocate 20% of their time to act as digital trustees. Kriti Sharma of Sage said tech “should not be left to the geeks” and urged tech businesses to appoint ‘chief ethical technology officers’.

Ravi Naik of ITN Solicitors said demands for greater accountability in technology, such as GDPR, were prompted by a new data rights movement, similar to civil rights movements, and that these changes had to be fought for. He called for greater clarity of language and agreed with calls for greater ‘explainability’ as part of that push.

James Plunkett of Citizens Advice warned that big data created a major opportunity to use tech for good purpose, but was being misused to identify the vulnerable and charge them more. Karen Croxson of the Financial Conduct Authority agreed, warning that, while data made consumers “more predictable but also more exploitable”.

Sophie Varlow of the Commons Platform argued for the creation of new collectively owned data platforms.

#InTheLoop organiser Cassie Robinson urged follow-on ideas. “We want to continue to build on the momentum and desire in the room to support society to be in the loop of how tech is developed and directed,” she said.

doteveryone logoThe Ada Lovelace Institute was established this year by the Nuffield Foundation as an independent campaign to ensure that data and AI work for people and society.  Reema Patel of the institute said a key ambition was “to connect and convene diverse voices on the social and ethical implications of AI and data.

“We see working and entering into a dialogue with wider civil society as integral to the success of this aim.”

A new civil society strategy was launched by the government this summer, putting tech-for-good innovation at the heart of efforts to boost participation and charity growth. It promised that the government would examine “new ways to harness the power of digital and technology for public good”, including tackling loneliness, healthy ageing, online safety and digital inclusion.

Watch the #InTheLoop discussions on Periscope.

Doteveryone is recruiting a programme manager for its work on digital society to support its work on this issue. Applications close on Monday 24 September.

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