Digital technologies are transforming nearly every facet of our lives. They can bring joy, support political participation, create new livelihood opportunities and accelerate development gains. But, current digital innovation trajectories and business practices are also undermining civil liberties and exacerbating social and economic inequality. Power and information asymmetries are increasing and societies must confront complex questions around individual agency, political accountability, and future uncertainty.
What are the values, strategies and capacities needed to steer innovation trajectories with social justice?
Digital technologies are central to modern India’s development story. However, low levels of regulatory capacity and stark socioeconomic inequities accentuate the harmful effects of digital technologies. India is at a critical juncture - technology policy decisions taken today will have long term implications for democracy, prosperity, and social justice. Public policy needs to steer technology trajectories toward the public interest, but is often reactive and ad-hoc.
Rather than the downstream management of risk and harm, how might we develop a more anticipatory approach to steer socio-technical change?
In response to a growing 'tech-lash' globally, many technology companies have begun to appeal to the language of responsibility and ethics. This may signal a change in societal expectations of technology companies, and consequently, a change in their business practices. But the use of the language of responsibility can also be a way for companies to avoid more stringent regulatory measures - a way of ‘ethics-washing’ while continuing business as usual.
States have the primary responsibility to protect citizens from harm. But, many are reluctant to over-regulate emerging digital technologies for fear of stifling innovation and economic growth. States may also lack the institutional frameworks and capacities to adequately regulate emerging technologies. Many national AI policies, including from India, thus call for responsible self-regulation by technology companies.
How might we re-frame responsibility into a productive category, oriented toward the realization of positive social outcomes, rather than a reduction of regulatory and policy steering?
The growing use of the language of responsibility and ethics by technology companies and governments creates a strategic window for civil society to shape what is meant by responsibility and its practice.