How can tech giants regain users’ trust? Why tech companies must embed universal human values in their tech, people and purpose

Maria Moraes Robinson shares an invitation to forward-thinking leaders to take an expanded conception of deep tech to open up new conversations, dialogues and questions, and explore new pathways of growth, value and impact

In times of great change like the one we are living in, the challenge for business leaders is immense. With ever more access to information, people are now calling for greater transparency, demanding that their relationships with organisations and brands be authentic, true and of high quality. The impact of this new reality was felt intensely by Facebook following the recent public revelations of two whistleblowers. In her testimony to the US Senate, Frances Haugen made the claim that Facebook’s internal research showed that their social media services were damaging the mental health of teenage girls, while Sophie Zhang said she had ‘blood on her hands’ after working at the company.

Loss of trust in big tech

People are now losing trust in big tech due to their concerns over questions of their concentration of power, political interference, the potential use of unauthorised surveillance and the harvesting of personal data. Society is changing rapidly, with many barriers in various areas now falling or becoming porous. This means that the actions of organisations are becoming more transparent, and people are becoming more aware of what they want and what is good for them.

The case of Facebook’s questionable ethics has profoundly impacted the trust that people have in all tech giants due to people becoming more aware of the way in which AI algorithms can purposely manipulate social media feeds to instigate division amongst people rather than help nurture unity and consensus. When social media companies first launched, the focus was purely on the core interactions that their platforms enabled to help people connect, communicate and share. For example Facebook’s key interactions are liking, sharing, and visualising content on the timeline. WhatsApp’s are sending a short message, image or archive. What remained hidden from public view was these platforms’ exchange of value, that aspect of the platform that sustains the platform’s business model. So while a platform such as GlassDoor has a transparent exchange of value – the sharing of a user’s salary in exchange of information of value to furthering their career – Facebook has an advertising-based business model which is centred around targeting the news feed.

While this is not an issue in itself, the ethical question that Facebook and other tech giants now face is that of manipulating people’s emotions in order to trigger commenting, all while allegedly knowing that many people such as teenage girls can suffer from mental health issues and lower self-esteem.

The response from Mark Zucherberg was to emphatically deny that Facebook places profit above people. While this may have assured some users and Facebook employees, the fact remains that trust in big tech has been damaged.

Authenticity

The greatest problem that big tech has is with authenticity. What is said publicly, what is meant and how big tech acts are three separate things which are not coherent. To repair the damage, organisations need to focus on improving the quality of every form of relationship so that what is presented externally fully matches that which happens inside of the organisation. People are now seeking more meaningful relationships with the organisations with which they interact, and so leaders need to develop their cultures so that people can act with integrity, truthfulness and with pride in all that they do.

As deep technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of things, biotechnology and quantum computing starts to achieve the same level cognition that matches that of human, questions of ethics and the role of technology in society will intensify even further. For this reason, big tech must now start to understand the nature and importance of the five universal human values of peace, truth, love, righteousness, and non-violence.

These universals values can be found in many different cultural traditions and several of the oldest writings in humanity, forming the basis of any healthy and prosperous human social system. Recognising universal human values as the highest expression of humanity changes our approach to the way in which we think about, design, and implement technology. Technology alone cannot solve our global issues no matter how advanced it may be. Technology is not deep if universal human values are not present. It is just technology.

Transformation happens when they are fully manifested in our lives and therefore fully lived. When we express each of these five interrelated values, we are being human in the fullest essence.

The universal human values represent the fundamental values that are expressed through ‘situational values’ which explain what each universal human value means in practice. So for example empathy is an expression of love, integrity is an expression of truth, reflection is an expression of peace, leadership is an expression of righteousness and respect is an expression of non-violence.

When we look at a case such as Facebook, we see an inability to empathise with those groups of people impacted by their policies and technologies. Falling levels of trust is not just impacting on social media platforms but across the entire spectrum of big tech, with people questioning the use of tracking and monitoring technologies such as smartwatches, smart speakers, tracking devices, phones, tablets and PCs. This shows an urgent necessity for tech leaders to engage with their public in a more elevated manner by understanding the way in which the universal human values provide the basis for the most profound form of cultural and technological transformation.

But can it be truly possible to design technology that does expresses the universal human values? Our approach has been to create a new Deep Tech Discovery process which starts with the elevation of an organisation’s value proposition.

Value proposition evaluation

Our process of value proposition elevation integrates universal human values with an organisation’s corporate values, strategy, and platform architecture. It works by analysing and then elevating an existing value proposition through the lenses of i) planetary challenges, ii) the organisation’s values and iii) its future-fit vision. The design process then starts expanding the definition of customer to include the voice of all stakeholders who will be impacted by the value proposition.

The process of elevating a platform’s value proposition also contributes to an organisation’s wider digital evolution initiatives, for example, strategic initiatives, digital products/services, digital solutions and advanced technologies. By transparently demonstrating how the organisation is generating net-positive economic, social, and environmental value through benchmarks such as the Future-Fit Benchmark, big tech can help people understand the often-hidden links between an organisation’s values, culture, strategy, and operations.

Our invitation to forward-thinking leaders is to take this expanded conception of deep tech to open up new conversations, dialogues and questions, and explore new pathways of growth, value and impact. When informed by universal human values, organisations can become open to the ways in which they can contribute to prosperous and flourishing economic systems, driven by technologies designed using the process of Deep Tech Discovery. The result is authentic, engaging, and inspirational value propositions that can help amplify an organisation’s impact across ecosystems, society, and our planet.

Maria Moraes Robinson is the co-author of Deep Tech and the Amplified Organisation and the CEO (Brazil) of business consultancy Holonomics

Maria Moraes Robinson is the co-author of Deep Tech and the Amplified Organisation and the CEO (Brazil) of business consultancy Holonomics.

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