Technology has become nearly ubiquitous in our lives. While the rapid spread of innovation has had significant and widespread social benefits, we have also seen a corresponding growth in unintended consequences that have considerable implications on everything from how we earn a living to our children’s health. Recent media coverage has signaled the importance of recognizing that technology does not operate in a vacuum, and of the need to design and deploy tech products with societal well-being in mind.
The Tech and Society Solutions Lab is a new effort that draws on Omidyar Network’s long-standing belief in both the promise of technology to create opportunity and social good, as well as our concern about negative outcomes that can result from this innovation. The Lab tests, builds, and scales interventions meant to help the tech industry better anticipate, prevent, and correct issues arising from the downsides of technology – and perhaps more importantly – maximize the industry’s positive contributions to a healthy society well into the future.
The Lab will also work to catalyze an industry-wide movement. By bringing together industry leaders, academics and civil society, the media, and others, the Lab will help foster a common conversation across a range of critical issues to create a more formal umbrella effort that is focused on building long-term resilience and creating products that have both a company’s and humanity’s best interests in mind.
We have begun to explore a variety of efforts to advance these goals. Examples include reinventing how we educate the next generation of technologists so that they think more deeply about these issues, partnering with tech companies and others to find metrics that better track their contributions to the health of the public sphere, developing a set of principles for responsible data usage among data scientists, and supporting change agents who are tackling emerging problems such as smartphone addiction. We are also forming partnerships to test specific interventions that support more inclusive tech cultures and product design practices, and supporting the development of tools and resources to help employees more effectively identify and prevent harms.