Sarah Drinkwater
Lead, Tech and Society Solutions Lab
&
Yoav Schlesinger
Principal, Tech and Society Solutions Lab

2019: A Year to Move Purposefully and Fix Things

January 21, 2019
2018 was the year that conversations about responsible technology went mainstream. We saw tech leaders brought in front of the House and Senate, only to face questions from some members of Congress that displayed a lack of tech literacy. We saw workers raise their voices and call out their employers’ questionable business decisions. And we all read many front page headlines on data breaches, privacy issues, tech addiction, and “fake news.”

Yet as the public outcry over tech’s failures reached a fever pitch, what remains consistently missing from the conversation are human solutions to help address those failings. While most of the tech challenges we face cannot be solved simply or easily, we must continue to build, test, and scale solutions to give us that bright future technology always promised.

That’s why we created Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Solutions Lab and, in 2018, rolled up our sleeves to co-create practical, scalable solutions in partnership with industry and civil society. It’s early days, but here are some of last year’s highlights.

Ethical Operating System 

Last summer, we were proud to launch our first product, the Ethical Operating System (#EthicalOS). Designed in collaboration with the Institute for the Future (IFTF), EthicalOS offers product developers a practical roadmap for asking the right ethical questions early in the design process. In just six months, we’ve seen it implemented in incubators and companies including Techstars, LAUNCH Accelerator, Y Combinator Research, 500 Startups, and Upfront Ventures.

Responsible Computer Science Challenge 

Responding to the power engineers have within companies to make the right product choices, we launched the Responsible Computer Science Challenge (#ResponsibleCS), a collaboration with Mozilla, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies to seek out and fund creative ways to embed ethical thinking into undergraduate technology curricula. We’ve been thrilled by the quality and number of responses from dozens of universities from nearly every state. By the summer of 2020, we will award up to $3.5 million in prizes to new and creative efforts to integrate ethics into technical computer science education.

Of course, this is just the beginning, both for our work at the Tech and Society Solutions Lab and the wider movement for responsible technology. While much work remains to be done, we’ve seen several encouraging developments.

Building with Greater Intention 

Leaders at Recode and Techonomy are convening tech executives to discuss and debate how to build with greater intention for responsible growth. Our trusted partners such as Tristan Harris at the Center for Humane Technology, Martha Lane Fox at Doteveryone, and Michelle Miller and Jess Kutch at Coworker.org will be instrumental in ensuring the industry builds a more robust moral muscle memory. And our own Paula Goldman, former global lead of the Tech and Society Solutions Lab, was named the first-ever chief ethical and humane use officer at Salesforce — a wonderful and welcome development for the field of responsible tech.

Move Purposefully And Fix Things 

Technology as an industry is at a crossroads. And so we are compelled to action under a new rallying cry: “Move Purposefully and Fix Things.” In 2019, we’ll continue to collaborate with trusted partners and peers to shift the perceptions, behaviors, rules, and systems that govern the tech industry today. We’re a team of passionate but pragmatic optimists who know tech can and must do better, and we’re excited to spend 2019 working harder than ever to advance this movement. We hope you’ll join us.

Sarah Drinkwater is Director of the Tech and Society Solutions Lab at Omidyar Network. 
Yoav Schlesinger is Principal of the Tech and Society Solutions Lab at Omidyar Network. 


About the Tech and Society Solutions Lab

The Tech and Society Solutions Lab was launched in 2018 and draws on Omidyar Network’s long-standing belief in the promise of technology to create opportunity and social good, as well as our concern about unintended consequences that can result from technological innovation. The team aims to help technologists prevent the societal downsides of technology — and maximize its positive impact. You can learn more about our work here: www.omidyar.com/our-work/tech-and-society-solutions-lab 

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