Accenture’s 2016 Business Trends

Accenture’s 2016 Business Trends

Each year Accenture identifies 5 key technology trends for the year. Below are a few of the trends with the ethical implications. This year at South By Southwest, some of these were reviewed, and they’re important to keep in mind as we move forward with new cutting-edge technologies.

Trend # 1: Intelligent Automation

Intelligent Automation is a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, and it’s changing the way businesses, systems and people operate. This includes everything from autonomous, self-driving vehicles to IBM’s robot, Watson. Intelligent Automation is streamlining business processes by reducing errors and removing the need for human orchestration. These systems do work best, though, when they integrate human decision making with automated task-related actions. As the roles of humans and machines merge, it may be unclear who sets the rules of ethics, and how to allow for the machines to make ethical decisions.  One scenario put forth asks: “Should a drone fire on a house where a target is known to be hiding, which may also be sheltering civilians? Should a driver-less car swerve to avoid pedestrians if that means hitting other vehicles or endangering its occupants? Should a robot involved in disaster recovery tell people the truth about what is happening if that risks causing a panic?”

Positive Ethical Implications:

The positive ethical implications of Intelligent Automation are human vices and iniquities would not be a factor in decision-making. Greed, revenge, lust, jealousy, pride, etc. are all qualities that factor into a human’s decision, unfortunately. With intelligent automation, this can completely be avoided. Autonomous cars can’t drive drunk and robot soldiers will not burn civilian homes. Another positive ethical implication is a code or program will have to be decided from an ethical standpoint. Right now, ethics is very ambiguous, as everyone’s moral compass is a little different. While not everyone will agree with whatever standards are programmed into a machine, it will be a cut-and-dry system. It will not vary from machine to machine.

Negative Ethical Implications:

Unfortunately, this also means that intelligent automation will not have the empathy to consider more out-of-the-box ethical implications. They will operate completely as they’re programmed, but in this way, they control the fate of humans. They also rely on the technology of the server or command center. This heavy reliance can create major ethical problems if these centers do not have back-up plans. For example, if a server goes down that powers a nurse robot, lives could be very easily lost. Additionally, as these Intelligent Automations are not capable of emotion, they cannot consider the value of human lives. As Peter Asaro of Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University put it, “And if they’re not capable of that, and we allow them to kill people under the law, then we all lose dignity, in the way that if we permit slavery, it’s not just the suffering of those who are slaves but all of humanity that suffers the indignity that there are any slaves at all.”.

Trend # 3: Platform Economy

The Platform Economy is the notion that businesses are being molded by the digital ecosystem and thus need to create a platform-based business model. This platform allows more open communication between the user (customer or prospective customer) and the business. It also facilitates the communication within user groups and business groups. From an economic standpoint, this also represents a shift from demand-side economics (high barriers to entry, controlling resources, etc.) to supply-side economics (value to stakeholders is created through the platform, meaning tapping into resources and capacity that businesses don’t have to own).

Positive Ethical Implications:

One of the positive ethical implications of the Platform Economy is that more voices get to be heard. For example, let’s say the platform is Amazon.com, and the site is selling a book on how to make a home bomb. Or perhaps a vendor is selling signs with overtly racist or sexist messaging. Users can express their dissatisfaction or concern with these products, and Amazon can handle it accordingly. According to Herb Rubenstein, running a platform-based organization also makes it easy to establish and communicate the ethical policy to all stakeholders. This information can be very useful for users and members of the business side.

Negative Ethical Implications:

One of the ethical concerns for the Platform Economy is that this kind of platform immersion can go too far. Signals are already pointing to platforms moving from traditional digital to Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality. While this level of sophistication can provide a great deal of entertainment (watching a virtual movie) or understanding (virtually touring The Louvre), there are a great deal of threats. For one, many times the information being covered can be traumatic. As Benjamin Mullen put it, “Because the medium is so strong and makes people have such a real and direct experience, the risk is obviously that if you are portraying a traumatizing subject or event, that you will have a stronger negative affect on the audience” (Mullen). Later on this might even lead to total desensitization as users are constantly being bombarded with such strong imagery and experiences.

Trend # 5: Digital Trust

The arena of Digital Trust encompasses both Digital Ethics (informed consent, transparency, code of data ethics, etc.) and Security (user engagement, infrastructure security, cyber defense management, etc.). It is of paramount importance that businesses take into account ethics and handle that responsibility with a huge amount of sensitivity. Ethics not only has an impact on policy and company culture, it also deals with the bottom line. Fifty-five percent of global online consumers across 60 countries say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, according to a new study by Nielsen.

Positive Ethical Implications:

The amount of positive ethical implications abound! By having heightened security, users can feel more confident and safe browsing the internet, using online platforms and experimenting with new technologies. By keeping users informed along the way, you can build trust in your brand, which will lead to life-long customers who tell their friends and family. Sound Digital Trust in your business also helps your company recruit the right kind of talent. The next generation of employees is seeking out employers that are focused on the triple bottom line: people, planet and revenue .

Negative Ethical Implications:

While it may seem counter-intuitive, there are some negative ethical implications related to Digital Trust. For one, it forces organization to come up with a policy that addresses how to handle ethical situations. The problem with this is many companies can hide behind the policy. Also a strict policy leaves little room for exceptions or unique situations.

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