The industry built on code has no moral code

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica may be in the news now but the latter isn't the only company with a powerful algorithm to scrape our data, writes the director of innovation at Brothers & Sisters.

It is time for the marketing industry to stop obsessing about finding the next big thing in tech, and instead focus on making the current technology we have work better and more constructively.

How do we add morality and decency to tech so it serves us properly as a human race? How do we make tech a space that brands want to inhabit rather than live in fear from it and the manipulation it can engender?

Look at the facts. Algorithms seem so easily manipulated. Tech has disrupted media but replaced it with powerful echo chambers stalked by ads. Vast amounts of our data can be stolen, even from the biggest platforms.

Sure, Facebook is in the limelight now but Cambridge Analytica is not the only ones with powerful algorithms that scrape incredible amounts of data without us realising. Digital advertising has been sold with the same carefree abandon that credit default swaps were in 2007, without people checking what they were buying. If you give a brand your email you are liable to be harassed by them until you find the tiny unsubscribe button to click. YouTube video views can be bought by the million.

We have been given this gift of living in an era of unprecedented virtual evolution, and we seem hell bent on wasting it. On serving the individual not the whole. It’s pulling out our inner greed.

Technology is embedded in society in profound ways. We can’t decouple that now. It helps us make existing services better and more efficient. AI is a brain extender that helps us go beyond our limitations. It literally makes us smarter. Technology allows us to harness our creativity in fresh new ways. It transports us to magical worlds and gives us impossible experiences. We’re having actual connections with virtual objects. Robots are composing dope tracks based on your environment. Drone fishing is real!

Our attention should be on expanding human consciousness with all the tools at hand. That doesn’t only mean revolutionising energy and education, healthcare or distributing vital resources, but social responsibility as its core value. Without that, marketing can’t play in it. Every industry over time has had to accept limitations by acting in a socially responsible manner and it is now time for technology to be reigned in as well.

Volvo invented the three-point seat belt and gave it away to all its competitors because it was too important to keep protected. How far away from that type of world does technology seem right now?

It’s time to move away from the idea that businesses can focus purely on profit and ignore social and environmental consequences. So much technology money, if we are honest, does this.

Instead we should remind ourselves that with people genuinely at its heart, technology has awesome potential. To be a place brands want to engage with their audiences.

We should constantly be looking for catalyst moments to improve the world around us. It might be fun to have Starbucks delivered by drones, but how incredible to be using drones to deliver blood to remote areas? Zipline, a robotics company in the United States, operates the world’s only drone delivery for urgent medicines. They deliver worldwide and actively change lives of billions of people in need. Their on-demand service reduces waste and stock outs. Genius and uplifting.

The system that built technology needs to be rebuilt for people and brands to thrive. How ironic the industry built on code has no moral code.

Jules Coetzee is director of innovation at Brothers & Sisters

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