HOW TO USE NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR DOING GOOD — Joining 26 presidents & ministers + 1000 other world leaders in the dialogue
This summer I had the honor to speak at the Horasis 2021 global meeting, one of the foremost annual meetings for the world’s leading decision makers from business, government and civil society. The event inhibited 26 presidents and ministers, an impressive lineup of global CEO:s, a couple of royalties and 1000 other world leaders — all gathered under the theme “Fostering Shared Humanity” with the devising of novel ideas to navigate through our developments in the post-COVID future. Myself I was invited to, together with a couple of highly distinguished experts, head the panel with the dearest of all my subjects — How to use technology to do good. The insights for this most crucial of subjects, you find here..
Technology for the Public Good — Does it truly have the possibility to save the world?
So, what was the result? Nothing but fascinating, like always. The subject was divided into four themes, with tech enabling people in emerging markets and tech improving a sustainable world. This was followed by the question if this tech disruption was driven best by private or public initiatives and, finally, if there could be “too much of a good thing”, i.e. that tech for good could lead to other unwanted effects apart from the social impact for the people and planet.
Below you find my take on the subject, admittedly inspired by the splendid insights delivered not only in our panel but by all the astounding individuals during the global event — while still taking the full responsibility for whatever blame anyone might have for what is coming. So, for whatever it’s worth, here you are 😊.
How private sector driven technologies are enabling the public good in emerging markets.
On this subject I read this summer that in one of my home countries, Sweden (on my mothers side), we had 6% “climate deniers”. These are the people who don’t “believe” in the climate crisis, or don’t believe that mankind is the reason for it — even though 97% of the global scientists today agree on both of these facts.
This is of course interesting as a social phenomenon, and I know this number is 2–3 times higher in my other home country, US (on my father’s side), together with a few countries like Indonesia and some MENA-countries. So perhaps I should be proud.
What I shouldn’t be proud of is that a majority of these knowledge resisters are men (but at least in Sweden we all know how women are smarter than men :D) and have a higher age (and, again, we know that high age, not least in combination with low or no education, is making you more vulnerable to fake news).
But more importantly the findings show there are more than twice as many climate deniers among people with low education compared to those with higher education.
In the excellent Nik Gowing led panel with the president of Armenia - the honorable love promoting Armen Sarkissian — half an hour before our panel was looking for “the vaccine of stupidity”. And here it is. Education is the best vaccine not only for knowledge resistance in general, but also for climate denial in particular.
So not only when we talk about people, but also about the planet, it’s all about education.
In the value chain of professor Hans Rosling (RIP) and his statistics of all the good things that actually has happened to mankind in modern time, everything from increased longevity, equality, water access, harvest efficiency and protected nature as well as decreasing poverty, slavery, death sentences, child labor, child marriages, hunger, nuclear weapons, childhood cancer, ozone-hazardous substances, gender cap, solar cell cost and childbirth. Everything (!) is about science translated to education and vice versa.
In fact, the only thing that comes before education in the value chain is electricity (because you need electricity for lamps to read or computers to interact with).
And the thing is that now, today, we have an historical possibility to make this education a true “public good”, by offering it not only in the broadest channel ever offered in history, the mobile (now with 60% online in the world, of which 97% is done by a smartphone). But it is also about using emerging technologies like AI för customized learning, blockchain för secured certificates and gamification (something 5G will eventually explode) for truly game changing learning efficiency and engagement for those without the luxury of access to offline teachers.
And people are actually already rigged for it, with a global average of spending nearly 7h online a day, of which nearly 2,5 of these hours are being spent on social media.
What if we all only took 20% of this SoMe time, 29 min/day, and spent it on fun, engaging and secure online education? It would mean 1 full additional month of education/year — multiply that with the global population online, 4,7 billion people (of which 75% from emerging markets in Africa, Latin America, and not least in Asia), and you will get an educational leap and shared humanity that the world has never before seen in history.
Can you think of any other use more worthwhile for the “private sector driven technologies” in order to “enable the public good in emerging markets”? Eat your heart out.
How technology is improving sustainability initiatives around the world.
Going from tech for good not only for people, but also for the planet, the panel now shifted to the question of improving sustainability initiatives in the world.
Parallel to our panel there was other excellent discussions on plenaries like “Fostering Sustainable Capitalism to Mitigate Climate Change”, not least from super smart people like Bo Inge Andersson and to some more eccentric extent David de Rothschild. But having said that — ALL of these “solutions” tended to regard blaming the industry, or aggressively making politicians accountable.
…which of course all makes sense — with 1,4 billion cars generating 21% of the world’s carbon footprint, of course political initiatives for regulating or stimulating the industry is a no-brainer. Which of course goes for more adhd-inspired demands of actions next 12 months instead of pushing the accountability to 2030, 2040 or 2050 — long after the sitting politicians and CEO:s left their chair to someone else.
Still, all this about political and corporate accountability is a very traditional “regulative” ways to approach the issue — i.e. the way we already tried and saw didn’t work as well or as fast as it needs to be. For me this is all good, and as a principal of “ethical pragmatism”, all forces fighting for the good is also in themself “good” — there is now valuing in this. Still, from a pragmatic end-result perspective, if we go to the root of everything, there is one single factor that will play the biggest role of them all, and this is it.
What is not measured, does not exist.
Think about this for a while, let it sink in, reflecting on all the evidence and illustrations of it. And then think about what that means for the sustainability of our planet.
What if everything you bought, all products and even services, had a tag on it that showed the total lifecycle carbon footprint it has rendered from cradle-to-grave, just as it today in most countries shows the nutritious value, or the ecological level?
And what if we wouldn’t wait for the politicians to achieve this? Which is predestinated to happen… in 10–15 years or something, when it’s too late to do something about it.
So, what if we instead didn’t wait? And took a corporate action making demands on all our suppliers to execute on this LCA-analysis, so all consumers could know and choose between goods and services that generates the lowest carbon footprint?
What if we, together with the new smart generation of Greta — in combination with the 2/3 of the global population that in the most recent study finally actually think of the climate crisis as a “global emergency” — would make this the most crucial social cred factor in the world? That is, what if we put all our massive digital communication power to render decent CliM8 tracks to show on SoMe and Tinder or communicate on a date or in different groups. What if we together develop this into one of the highest valued social causes for who to be friend with, for who to recruit or even for who to make love to and even make babies with?
And what if all this actually would be the single most important factor for us all to actually succeed in the 7,6% annual reduction needed for the planet to not reach higher than 1,5 global warming that IPCC and — today, we all — know is the limit without dramatically horrible consequences for us people and the planet.
To make the B2C part of sustainability (yes, we all know that the B2B is facing at least as heavy cut) having the impact it’ll need, then the CliM8 tracking of each consumers’ CliM8 footprint has to move to a totally new level — making it a necessity for social credibility to show decent tracking of your carbon footprint.
For the one who not only has his nose down in the biology and chemistry of CO2 and its effect on mother earth, but actually knows his behavioral science and what effects human behavior, it is not impossible that this would show to be the single most important factor to save our planet.
In the sagas of the nordic countries, the only way to get rid of the monsters in the dark woods, is to take them out in the sun, and then they die. Right now, the carbon footprint we generate every day is in the dark woods. You don’t know if you are a good guy, I don’t know if I’m a good guy, your daughter doesn’t know if she’s a good gal. None of us knows how good or bad we are to mother earth!
Let’s bring that monstrous carbon footprint from the dark wood out in the sun and kill it!
That’s (!) what will foster a shared humanity that does not conflict, but actually contribute, to a sustainable development for people AND the planet.
Private sector vs public sector technology approaches to delivering public good — what is the role of the public sector in our current times?
So we have some extremely promising roads to using tech for good when it comes to people and planet in general. In particular, we have two highly ROE-al (or even ROI-al) crusades with regard to a massive global empowerment explosion for people using digital education doped by the most promising of emerging tech on one hand, and an equally massive global CO2-reduction for the planet enabled by LCA-boosted CliM8 tracks doped with the most advanced data science on the other.
So, the question now is who will be the supreme executers — i.e., what in the panel was discussed in the sense of private or public sector being best armed to be successful in the endeavor?
To start off it is first true that some basic needs have to be initiated and controlled by politicians, such as basic infrastructure and the kind of basic science that Tom Husson mentioned — regarding innovations like Arpanet, CERN and other basic functions (is money really one of these?).
And it is also true that it is precisely in a crisis such as the pandemic that politicians should step in, to not do so would be to take away what constitutes the very basic security in life for all of us as citizens.
At the same time, my question circle around what made this global pandemic a major tragedy for those affected, but not as great a tragedy as it could otherwise have been for the economies of people, companies and countries? Well, it’s the digital technology.
Because besides the most basic infrastructure, this is nowhere near to be delivered by politicians, but by digital entrepreneurs who have grown into digital giants (who though, it is admittedly true, without political regulation otherwise could or would have grown into digital dictators).
And this is the very core of why the process of us humans becoming a total remote species - a process that the pandemic so brutally accelerated - did not make us totally paralyzed privately nor professionally. Instead, most of us now all have shopped digitally, socialized digitally, worked digitally, educated us digitally — everything that has made the necessity of social distancing easier (=bad for covid-19) and a functioning work and leisure life better (=good for finances and quality of life).
None of this comes from politicians, but from companies, and is the reason that the crisis we are now going through, apart from the 5 million who died and their relatives, had a significantly less consequence for the rest of us billions who were not affected by the pandemic but by the consequences of prevention.
So, again, even though the public sector has gained some momentum during covid (and rightly so), the overall picture is a totally different one. Companies have all the power today, and companies are depending somewhat on politicians, but much more on their customers and end-consumers.
Therefore, consumers are the ones who in reality have all the power today, and if they understand that — by being among the educated ones (e.g. by credible online education as opposed to the “uneducated” 6% climate deniers) — they will act. And that’s totally irrespective of if they do so through solid activation, or by simply consuming services and goods from companies and countries they experience as being “good” (e.g. based on the CliM8 tracks above), regardless individuals — as consumers more than citizens — are the new rulers of the world.
But if they don’t understand it, if they don’t understand the 100% power they have as consumers, and only act the 0,07% of the time when the politicians listen to them (i.e., the day they vote) — and we go on sitting in our kitchens complaining and hoping for the politicians to solve things (i.e. formally trying to regulate and stimulate) for us and the world — then companies will continue the journey to total hegemony of this world.
But precisely because the real power today lies with consumers, it is the companies that, for this very reason — they are MORE democratic than countries, even more democratic than democratic countries — must account for the most important of all the changes that need to be made in various contexts, not least when it comes to using tech to do good.
Again, that’s why the road for “corporate and political accountability” earlier discussed regarding climate change is one way to go, but one that will not bring the fastest and most sustainable result. And that’s why waiting for politicians to launch the most brilliant mobile learning boosted with EmTech to generate the global educational explosion, not will be the most efficient and fast way to go.
And the very fact that the “public” good is not happening where it “should”, i.e., in the “public” sector, is precisely the reason why we have seen a brutal wave of such digital intra- and entrepreneurs who, like myself, are driven by pathos for a social impact, acting in directions where tech is used for the public good. And that is precisely why we have seen a wave in this direction even during times of crisis such as covid-19, where one would expect lunatics like us to for once relax at least a little and let the authorities “take care of things” until the storm subsides.
But that is of course not what has happened. On the one hand, we have companies like my own EdTech company in Singapore, in the middle of all the fantastic opportunities and gigantic needs for modern EdTech in the pandemic year, after a 90-meter race (100% frontend and 50% backend ready, incl. MOU:s for enabling 43 million people in emerging markets) has been working on ground travel in preparation for the next space trip.
And myself meanwhile — catalyzed by children and family who wanted me home to Sweden, and that I myself went on a pretty serious covid illness, paused — did I lick my wounds and take it easy? Well, whatever I’ve done in that direction has been on medical orders (at most :D). Because in parallel with everything above, I have taken my pathos for sustainability in combination with my expertise in emerging technologies, digital innovation and data science, to accept the challenge of replacing billions of fossil revenues with digital ones.
And all the entrepreneurial power I’m surrounded with, points in the similar direction. Another entrepreneurial company within internet therapy (where I am a partner), doubles its revenues in the year of covid. Another where I am co-founder within talent acquisition within digital marketing, was actually founded in the middle of the covid crisis and directly received seven-digit revenue and more than twenty customers the first year with black numbers — and this year allready rates double. During the same period, another entrepreneurial brother has paused one of its companies, while starting a completely new one that is flourishing, and is now launching the third with blockchain as a basis already with a nine-digit valuation.
That’s how we intra-/entrepreneurs work. Or like this, depending on how you look at it 😊. And that’s how the very heart of companies — at least as long as they keep their entrepreneurial spirit — actually work. And that is precisely why, together, we all — who have this entrepreneurial power, this innovation mindset, the knowledge, the resources and the access to the most awesome of technologies on the one hand, and the drive to do something good with this technology on the other — must lift ourselves by the hair to ensure that all this tech for good becomes true, that it goes from fiction to facts.
On this subject our super moderator Ravi Chidambaram noted during the panel on the irony of how we have become accustomed to “public good” previously being given from the “public sector”.
And what this all means is that this era is simply over. And now I’m not only talking about the space race of the billionaires, taking over from the giant space race of the politicians of nations and even continents. Instead I am referring to the substantial value added to people and the planet. That it was Elon Musk who put the end to the petrol car, not any politician. That it was Mark Zuckerberg who in the middle of covid made us all establish and nurture our social relations possible on distance, not any president. that it was Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma that made it possible for my old mother to still do shopping even when locked inside, not any social worker. That it was Eric Yuan that ensured that this also applied to working online.
In a similar way, it will be a digital entrepreneur who makes sure that we get an explosion of new Einstein’s and Elon Musk’s that are generated when billions and billions of motivated people are educated online. And it will be a digital intra-/entrepreneur who will bring the monster of carbon footprint out in the sun, thus staging a globally credible CliM8 tracks that can seriously save the planet and make us all reduce the 7.6% in individual carbon footprint needed for mother earth, “mum”, not to reach higher than the already catastrophic 1.5% global warming we are already heading towards.
And you can take that to the bank. Don’t forget where you first read it 😊.
Can tech go too far in delivering such outcomes with issues like data privacy, control over citizens etc.?
Above we first had the question of the possibility to use tech to the best of good for people, while then moving on to use emerging tech to do at least as much good for the planet. This was followed by the generic question of who today was best suited to execute on this vision with maximum force, innovation and end result, i.e. the private or the public sector. This all takes us to the question of the boundaries for this vision, i.e., the risk for these initiatives to render collateral damage when it comes to integrity issues like intimate data och controlling behaviors etc.
And the earlier answers are rather clear for me. The possibilities to use new tech to do good for people in general is dramatic, and using it for a total global explosion with education will make a social impact never seen in history in particular. Likewise, using new technology for helping the planet is at least as promising (and necessary) in general and using it for coming to the roots of everything by global CliM8 tracks in particular.
And, again, that none of these actions will be best executed by politicians is for me a no-brainer, it will definitely need support and eventually some regulations (e.g. when will there be a formal regulation for how easily faked an un-blockchain-based online certification can be, and a formal limit for how much collective knowledge to be assembled and AI-processed or, at least for what purposes?). It will eventually even be room for political stimulation (e.g. when will there be an international rule to have a globally standardized CliM8 tracks on everything you buy in the store? It will eventually happen, but it will take 10–15 years, and “mum” will not be as patient as we people tend to be :-/).
But there it stops. Because what is needed is not regulations (setting boundaries to the action) or stimulations (hoping to generate action from the late follower).
Instead, what is needed is the passion to initiate the action with experimentation of early adopters, and diffusion of action for an early majority — i.e., it needs digital innovation at the most intense of levels, with a data science at the deepest of levels, brought to the market by the most aggressively passion of intra- & entrepreneurs.
All this is very clear for me. And what I’ve seen of global entrepreneurship, and even intrapreneurship, all over the world, makes me extremely optimistic that it will actually happen — that it will actually happen that we empower an enormous amount of people and actually save this planet, whether I will be among the ones inaugurating it or not (I would of course bet for the former 😊).
But there is a saying that “it can be too much of a good thing”, i.e., in this case meaning there could be too much (!) entrepreneurial passion to solve the problems of the world, and too much (!) corporate action in the above directions?
To think in this direction for an entrepreneur is of course difficult. We fight for the new generation to understand and be engaged in humanistic values for people, and the emergency need for taking care of our planet. And then we say there could be “too much” of entrepreneurial passion to actually solve it?
And we fight for companies earlier thinking one-eyed on the holiness of financial profit, growth and corporate governance maximizing owners ROI, to move into the direction of SDG17, 5th industrial revolution and the Davos manifesto — where inclusion and sustainability has at least as high priority. And then we say there could “too much” of corporate initiatives in helping to enable people and save the planet?
So, for me this question is much more delicate (perhaps because it is a question for politicians, who don’t HAVE the energy but tries to regulate it?). Because firstly this is what I would define as a bat (i.e., we get scared of something which has so many dimensions it cannot be categorized into the more general distinction of bird or insect), and second it is a broader question about the “nature” of technology as such.
On the one hand the question is crucial from a humanistic point of view, in many ways 1984 is in different formats already here. We all shout at what Jinping is doing with his brutal internet censorship in combination with his politically justified 600 million cameras armed with face-recognition. At the same time a similar process can be seen in the democratized world not only by governments’ criminally justified public cameras, but even more by digital giants and their imperialistic data access to the most intimate of people’s minds, values and relations — to the degree that it can in various dimension be proved they are getting to know people better than people know themselves.
It could thus be argued that in this way we get the same result in a democracy as in a dictatorship — the big difference is that we in the western world do it “voluntarily”. It’s actually not even a millennial dilemma. Early philosophers saw already in the last century that in the increasingly secular world when “god died”, we did not replace him/her with a real emancipation in thought and action. Instead we “escaped from freedom” — formerly by overdosing on advertising, experts and authoritative sects like the national socialism, while today commercialized by gaming, drugging, reality-showing, tiktoking and voluntarily handing all our data to digital giants who can offer us digital “bubbles”. All resulting in an ever-increasing populism and fragmentation, instead of widely shared insights and globalization.
And this is course not good. On the other hand, a former tech leader like Europe is lagging severely in AI due to… no, not fewer smart scientists or less sophisticated data science — but due to the tech giants in APAC without GDPR, having the by far best petrol for feeding their AI-engines appetite for overwhelming volumes of data. As one of the digital strategists claimed to have been one of the international pioneers in the field, I would here argue that this battle over AI is by far the most crucial of all technologies, perhaps one of the most lethal in history.
At the same time, taking these kind of arguments — however true they are — as a foundation for action, is like Bernard Moon during the panel so rightly called a “slippery slope”. Because once you start thinking of “competitive advantage” overriding the question of ethics and humanity, we are moving in the utilitarian direction of “collateral damage”, claming that “the road to paradise is lined with corpses” and that “the ends justify the means” etc.
No one is opposed to this more than I am. What can — and, if we’re not careful, eventually will (!) — happen when AI is “set loose” globally in all continents, countries and companies, become If not like “Terminators”, still be nothing but disastrous.
Again, these projections are not “original”, but from the academic world brilliantly formulated by inellectual giants like Stephen Hawking, Nick Boström and Max Tegmark, joined in our organization Future for Life by equally brilliant tech giants like Jaan Tallinn, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and a big bunch of others.
So, on the one hand we have a direction of data integrity highly disputable from a humanistic point of view. On the other hand, we have the highly actual question of competitive advantage among countries or even continents, and of course companies — a question which in itself is a slippery slope in general, and within the most dominant future tech of them all, AI, in particular.
This brings us to the broader question of “the nature” of technology in itself. There are some technologies that is, or are at least are claimed to be, good in themselves, and extremely promising in actually saving this world.
In the actual design of for instance blockchain, decentralization does not only form the very basis of Satoshi’s historical document, as well as being inherent in central technologies like DLT.
With a broader perspective, it can actually also be seen as part of a true “paradigm”, together with the trend in microservices with master data that goes from monolithic data warehouses and data lakes, to distributed data and data mesh. With edge computed AI where we have decentralized brains that deal with problems on the spot, with organization in decentralized cells and the whole metaphor of the octopus’ decentralized brain in each of their 8 tentacles, compared to the centralized brain in the human head.
And even though these promising features has so far shown a number of absolutely fantastic applications, at the same time there are already applications that Satoshi probably wouldn’t have been too proud of. So here too the fact applies that technology is actually value-neutral — like a hammer you can kill someone with it or build a hospital with it. This was during the event well put by Hamoon Ekhtiari during the interesting session of “Humanism in the Digital Age”, and is very much true when it comes to digital technologies, AI and data science etc. — there are neither any good of bad thing inherent in the technologies themselves, it all depends on the intentions and who are holding in the hammer so to speak.
So, what is the right answer here? My own take is that with technology being value-neutral, our by far biggest challenge is to make sure that what we use the hammer for is for something good, and mobilize commitment to do just the right thing. Just like a fantastic organization like Horasis, actually is doing.
So, thank you Frank, thank you Ravi, and thank you all for an impressive effort in just this direction. Like Karan Bilimoria said in the equally good panel ”Building a sharing future” said, the strive for people should not be to be the best in the world, you should be best for the world.
Amen to that. And thanx for being there!
Rufus Lidman, Fil. Lic.
Lidman is a renowned digital strategist, serial social entrepreneur and top tech influencer with 50,000 followers. With dual degrees, PhD-studies complemented with data science as platform, he has been founder of IAB, digital advisor for WFA, recognized speaker with over 300 lectures, and has had assignments within digital strategy for over 100 companies such as Samsung, IKEA, Mercedes, Electrolux, PwC etc. As a digital entrepreneur he has run half a dozen ventures with 2–3 ok exits, incl. sites with millions of visits and some of the world’s largest apps in its areas with over 10 million downloads. As his latest ventures he co-founded the leading talent acquisition company for digital talents in Sweden, Digitalenta, and the establishment of EdTech PTE Ltd in Singapore, using leading technology to reinvent learning for billions of needy in emerging markets. To that he adds 4 published books and the world’s largest learning app in digital strategy loved by 200.000 people in 165 countries.