Humanizing Tech May Be the New Competitive Advantage

Trust in technology is being eroded by concerns about data security — and if tech leaders want that trust back, they need to think about their products’ privacy implications.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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At Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O 2018, the company’s CEO Sundar Pitchai proudly demonstrated Google Duplex, a new artificial intelligence voice technology, making a remarkably human-sounding reservation over the phone. The problem was that the actual human on the other line did not know she was interacting with a bot. Only after Google faced backlash over concerns about this kind of deception did the company agree to release Duplex with disclosure built in.

As software continues to “eat the world,” the potential for privacy and ethics violations increases. It’s clear that technology executives and managers need to recognize the industry-wide factors that have contributed to the current fractured state of customer trust and move toward a framework that puts users first.

First, let’s examine some of the contributing factors of the current status quo.

Believing Moore’s law for too long. Intel cofounder Gordon Moore famously predicted that computing power, measured by quantity of transistors, would double every year, leading to exponential growth in this field. Moore’s law persisted throughout the hardware and software age, and only recently have we begun to consider its demise. With such a focus on growth and velocity of innovation, many technologists have found themselves ill-prepared to consider the impact of their technology.

Favoring the individual company over the collective users. In the tragedy of the commons, individual rationality and collective rationality are at odds with one another and are contradictory. This same conundrum exists today in tech — companies capture and use customers’ personal information but fail to show concern about the overall damage they cause by their individual actions.

Companies have acted in favor of increasing market share, but in the process have eroded the confidence and trust of customers. This was quite clear as we watched Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg grilled by Congress over the consequences of Cambridge Analytica’s data privacy scandal with Facebook user data.

Leading with tech first, questions second (or not at all). The rise in artificial and augmented intelligence has led to a proliferation of technologies that create, mimic, and facilitate conversation. This means designers are now introducing empathy, personality, and creativity to machine-human interaction in ways that affect user experience. The relationship a machine has with (and to) a user becomes a new competitive advantage.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
More in this series

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Comment (1)
oleg vatruha
i agree