#GeeksForHumanity | Announcing the Tech and Society Solutions Lab

February 8, 2018

At Omidyar Network, we fundamentally believe in the power of technology to deliver enormous benefits for humanity -- but we have also become increasingly concerned with the growing number of unintended consequences we have seen emerge.

And so we have founded the Tech and Society Solutions Lab, an emergent effort to test, build, and scale solutions that address these negative effects – and, more importantly, help maximize the tech industry’s contributions to a healthy society. Our work is just beginning, but we’ve already seen that we are just one of many who have expressed concerns about the impacts of rapidly evolving technology on our society. We are joining a chorus of voices from mainstream media to academic leaders, from former tech employees to current executives and entrepreneurs, all of whom are calling for the industry to live up to its core ethos of creating tremendous good for the world. 

This week alone, we’ve seen three of our initial efforts make a significant impact on the conversation. Take our investee Tristan Harris, a former Design Ethicist at Google, whose concerns about smartphone addiction led to the founding of Center for Humane Technology. As noted in The New York Times, the Center brings together a remarkable group of former tech employees who are concerned about the impacts of the products their companies – and in some cases, they as individuals – built. We are incredibly excited about their early efforts, which range from a public ad campaign to combat smartphone addiction to encouraging tech employees to think more critically about what they are asked to do. 

We are also pleased to join the seed round of Loris.ai, a startup that uses a data-driven approach to help companies navigate hard conversations. The effort will build on the success of Crisis Text Line to bring empathy, active listening, and collaborative problem-solving to businesses, helping them better anticipate and navigate difficult situations. We see this as a critical component to building a tech culture that better supports its employees, giving them the tools to relate more directly to the constituents reached by their products. Fostering empathy is one way we can begin to mitigate unintended consequences, and we are excited to see what changes will result from founder Nancy Lublin and her team.

Finally, on Tuesday we participated in Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange in San Francisco, where we partnered with tech, media, and civil society leaders to support a grassroots campaign to create a code of ethics for the data science community to adopt principles of responsible data use and sharing. Modeled after the Hippocratic Oath, we are eager to support the pledge in its goal of reaching 100,000 signatures. Under the leadership of Data4Democracy, in partnership with many others, this effort will be instrumental in building a coalition dedicated to promoting responsible behavior, sending an important message to the broader tech community that its employees are concerned and ready to take action to build a productive, more humane industry.

These are just three examples of important work being done to advance the conversation about the societal impacts of technology. We are humbled to play a small part in supporting these innovators and look forward to continuing to build a portfolio of innovative, solutions-focused endeavors that share our commitment to technology as a force for good. And we’re looking to expand our team of colleagues dedicated to the cause – please take a look at our job descriptions here and here if you’re interested in joining the Solutions Lab as it works to create a responsible path forward for the tech industry. We’ll be sharing more about the Solutions Lab in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned!


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