Technology has had a share of bad PR relating to privacy, mental health, relationships, and self-sufficiency. But while people tend to overemphasize the negatives, there are remarkable positive aspects of big tech.
From leisure to business, technology can make life easier and more enjoyable. It can also help promote the common good or at least impact humanity positively. That may explain why using technology for social good is on the rise.
Why has technology received so much negative PR recently?
Over the years, technology has prompted fear about its negative effects, just as it has excited human imagination.
Opinion polls suggest that people are nuanced by technology but are afraid of the associated risks – even as they remain hopeful about long-term benefits.
Overall, people are concerned about any negative impacts on their lives, especially concerning safety, trust, job security, and material living standards.
People often blame technology for:
Lowering concentration and productivity
Increasing cyberbullying, fake news, hatred, and politic-based manipulation
Decreased short-term memory
Poor sleeping habits
Poor mental health/increased depression and anxiety
Absence of social skills
Loss of privacy
But is it all doom and gloom?
While there's a genuine worry about the adverse effects, the prevalence of tech's negative PR is rooted in our negativity bias.
See, people are drawn to negative stories. This is because they're compelled to uncover the mystery and gain more knowledge. As such, authors often love to find the worst in things because it makes better news.
Technology is a tool - it's neither good nor bad
It's the people and companies behind the technology that determines how tech power is yielded. In other words, the difference lies in how people use a given technology.
To quote Pew Research Center: "... technology is neither inherently helpful nor harmful. It is simply a tool. The real effects of technology depend upon how it is wielded. It can inspire and catalyze change just as easily as it can be detrimental to society. Technology's influence in the world is highly dependent upon extraneous factors. These factors can be much more important than tech evolution itself in determining what the future holds."
For instance, tech innovations have brought about higher incomes, extended leisure, and longer , better lives. Frontier technologies like IoT, smart robotics, AI, and automation boost productivity while replacing mundane, risky tasks. Therefore, these technologies are a potential force for good across multiple domains.
When used unethically, however, the same technologies can have adverse effects. Think of technology making the work environment more intense and stressful.
What is tech for good?
Tech for good means different things to different people. Added to the fact that the field is rapidly growing, you're bound to encounter numerous definitions.
According to Dan Sutch, a CEO and researcher at the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technologies, "Tech for Good is the intentional design, development, and use of digital technologies to address social challenges. It is the combination of the most powerful and flexible tool we've ever had and good design approaches that are user-led and test-driven."
Tech for good is:
A community of like-minded people promoting the role of technology in bettering economic, environmental, and social outcomes
Creating technologies that address economic, social, and environmental challenges
Building technology that's deployed or implemented with a conscience (ethically)
So how can you use technology for good?
Where is tech for good making strides?
While technology adoption may be disruptive in the short term, here are three areas we see tech for good making strides.
Tech for good #1: healthcare
Technology can improve health, with possibilities ranging from personal lifestyle wearables to AI-powered drug research.
Telemedicine, for instance, provides easy access to health, creates new efficiencies, and minimizes waste in healthcare systems. That, in turn, improves living standards and reduces pressure on public finances in developing countries.
On its end, artificial intelligence seems promising in the:
Diagnosis of malaria, pneumonia, and Alzheimer's
Prediction of autism, stroke, and heart attack
Case example: Exscientia, a UK-based startup, leverages AI capabilities to test new drug molecules. That lets drug makers experiment on different prescription drugs using similar molecules wThis consequently reduces the time and cost of drug development.
Advanced analytics, in conjunction with predictive models, are helpful in the case of epidemics. Not only can they help pinpoint transmission routes, but also effectively prevent transmission. For example, combining data from multiple sources – like bank transactions and phone tracking – gave insights into how COVID-19 spread among people.
Robotics technology is at the forefront of surgery. As technology advances in robotics in general, these new techniques can be used to emulate the most advanced surgical procedures for robotically assisted surgeries. By pairing highly skilled surgeons with technically advanced robots, patient outcomes are increased, and healthcare costs are reduced.
And at a personal level, fitness trackers and lifestyle wearables help improve health for many people. They also help healthcare providers monitor patients continuously allowing for a more comprehensive view of the patient’s symptoms and activities over time.
Case example: A Boston-based Partners Healthcare system used at-home tracking devices to reduce readmission by 44% and save over $10m in six years.
Tech for good #2: the environment
The rising incidences of climate change, depletion of natural resources, and pollution in oceans are alarming.
And while tech contributes to energy use – the world ICT system consumes about 8% of the total global terawatt-hours – it can help improve energy efficiency, including its own.
For example, technology helps lower greenhouse gas emissions via batteries & control innovations and renewable energy sources – for balancing energy demand and supply. If electric utilities use 'smart' grid technology, they can increase efficiency by 12-21%.
AI-based traffic management in major cities can help reduce air pollution (and its impact) by 3-15%. Cities leveraging technology to optimize waste management can further cab greenhouse gas emissions.
IoT and AI help reduce energy consumption by automating operations management. For example, DeepMind helped lower cooling bills at Google's data center by approximately 40%.
Added to energy efficiency are 'smart' building technologies that help optimize energy use.
Furthermore, technology helps preserve bio-diversity. Case example: AI-powered drones help monitor illegal poaching or fishing. Similarly, ocean and river cleaning initiatives help make the planet a better place.
Tech for good #3: education
As education strives to enable positive welfare outcomes, technology is proving handy.
AI, for instance, is proving to be a valuable tool for grading coursework and exams. Tech applications help boost the efficiency of education-based platforms. For example, using chatbots make it easy to ask for feedback from students. Some programs help adapt learning to student abilities and preferences.
Technology also enables digital/online learningand cuts down the barrier to accessing education, all while improving its quality. For example:
Alternative learning devices for people with disabilities
Free universities offering blended learning
What are some tech for good companies leading the way?
Here's a quick overview of twelve companies leading the way in the tech for good.
SJF Ventures invests in high-growth companies creating a healthier, smarter, and cleaner future. Their mission is to catalyze the development of highly successful businesses driving lasting, positive changes.
MoCaFi is a financial services platform for the 110 million Americans dealing with economic hardship and no path to a better circumstance. They are a diverse-led team of financial executives, technologists, community organizers, activists, and makers committed to breaking barriers to wealth building for all people, regardless of race, circumstance, or financial position. Their platform consists of a prepaid Mastercard, FDIC-insured bank account, money management app, credit-building bill payment, and personal wealth coaching.
Aspiration uses debit card purchases and savings to help eliminate carbon footprint. They reward their client for planting trees and double the reward when the client reaches carbon zero. They have a commitment to clean money – helping put your money where your values are.
NightWare – Improves sleep in patients with Nightmare Disorder
NightWare helps people with frequent, traumatic nightmares to enjoy improved sleep quality and get more restful sleep. They are an FDA-cleared prescription digital therapeutic system that helps you take your sleep back. It helps reduce sleep disturbance brought about by PTSD-based nightmares or a Nightmare Disorder.
Relab purchases tech hardware at scale to ensure high environmental stewardship standards. They help turn unneeded hardware into reportable yet positive community impact. Relab handles pickup logistics, compliance issues and can provide extra incentives for ongoing programs.
AMP Robotics is reimagining and actively modernizing the world's recycling infrastructure by applying AI and robotics to economically recover commodities reclaimed as raw materials for the global supply chain. Their high-speed robotics system automates the identification and sorting of recyclables from mixed material streams. At the same time, their AI platform continuously trains itself by recognizing different colors, textures, shapes, sizes, patterns, and even brand labels to identify materials and their recyclability, then guides robots to pick and place the material to be recycled.
Project Canary is a leader in the certification of responsible operations throughout the energy value chain and provides measurement-based emission profiles via continuous monitoring technology. Their technology services help identify the most responsible energy supply chain operators. Analyzing more than 600 operational data points, TrustWell by Project Canary is one of the most comprehensive well-pad and mid-stream certification program available.
PayActiv - Financial wellness and pay-as –you-work platform
Payactiv, a Public Benefit Corporation and Certified B Corp, is a holistic financial-wellness platform that provides employees on-demand access to earned but unpaid wages. Employees love Payactiv because it eliminates the expensive between-paycheck toll of payday loans, bank overdrafts, and late fees. Payactiv offers a suite of financial services that includes savings and budgeting tools, bill payment, and financial-health measurement.
Amplio Recruiting helps companies hire reliable employees from the refugee workforce. They help businesses make profitable and socially responsible decisions and promise decreased recruitment risks, turnover, and increased productivity.
Rhithm - Mental health education for K12 students and staff
Rhithm is a K12 staff and student wellness check-in tool. The application selects an intervention video or SEL activity to regulate well-being as per-user data. Overall, it's a social-emotional learning that delivers an innovative curriculum, paradigm-shifting data, and life-saving visibility in a single solution. Rhithm's mission is to provide an efficient tool that will allow educators to elevate the next generation of humanity more effectively.
Jopwell – Diversity and inclusion-focused employee recruitment
Jopwell strives to represent and advance careers for Latinx, Black, and Native American professionals and students. Jopwell empowers employers to build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workspaces. They also boast internal DEI tools for equality and pay gaps.
Are you looking for more innovative tech for good companies? Vation Ventures is here to help - get in touch today.
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