What Tech Needs to Do Better in 2020, According to the People Who Build It

Voter registration, thoughtful regulation, replaceable batteries, and more — here are the solutions for a better tomorrow, today

AtAt OneZero, we believe in a better tomorrow. Ahead of the new year, we asked leaders in the tech industry — engineers, activists, venture capitalists, and writers — one simple question: How can we make the world better in 2020?

Here are their answers.

Leslie Miley, Former CTO, Obama Foundation

“Tech needs to begin to take responsibility for the spread and amplification of demonstrable hateful and harmful content and work in a transparent way to eliminate it from their platforms.”

Jessica Powell, Former Google VP and Author of The Big Disruption

“Tech people aren’t wrong to think that the media is sometimes unfair. But that doesn’t mean that all negative stories are wrong or are driven by an anti-tech agenda. Instead of spending so much energy decrying media bias against tech — which seems to dominate a lot of my Twitter feed — we should do better as an industry and listen to people’s concerns.”

danah boyd, Founder and President of Data & Society and a Partner Researcher at Microsoft

“In the late 1700s and early 1800s, entirely new models of political self-governance emerged to create democracies as we know them. In the early 1900s, all sorts of global governance activities started to emerge, from the development of interoperable standards for weather data to the formation of the Red Cross to the geopolitical efforts culminating in the United Nations. These are but a few of the radical restructurings of governance. We’re on the precipice of another one. The governance of technology isn’t going to be as simple as a battle between free-market capitalism and nation-state regulation. We’re seeing the need for an entirely new way of conceptualizing governance, even if we don’t yet know what it looks like. The big open question is how ugly things will be as this gets worked out.”

Hunter Walk, Partner at Homebrew, Seed-Stage Venture Fund. Formerly YouTube, Google, and SecondLife

Tech companies should help every American to become a voter, starting with its own employees. Roughly 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in 2018, and 49% of Americans between the ages of 30 and 44 voted in 2018. These numbers are increasing, but still lower than older age groups. Many states already require employers to give their staff time to vote, but our industry could go further by additionally using our products and voices to encourage users to do the same. For example, one of our portfolio companies, theSkimm, has worked each election season to help register voters, most recently getting over 100,000 young women to commit to voting in the 2018 midterms.”

Kaya Thomas, iOS Engineer at Calm

“One thing that needs to change in tech in 2020 is more underrepresented representation in executive and senior leadership roles. We need seats at the table in order to enact real change within the industry. If the focus for more diversity and inclusion stays on early career folks, then the changes won’t be long-term because there isn’t enough effort put into retention and promoting these same folks into leadership roles down the line. Tech will be a different industry if we have more diverse C-suites and boards.”

Kyle Wiens, Editor in Chief of iFixit

There are two easy changes that would make our gadgets last longer, save us money, and help the environment: 1) every company selling gadgets with batteries should sell replacements like Motorola has started doing; 2) share the service manuals online for free. These two policy changes would benefit everyone, and are actionable in 2020 without making any design changes to the products.”

Hayley Tsukayama, Legislative Activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation

“Stop thinking of surveillance as a business model. Some companies look to gather and profit from all the data they can, often in ways that people neither want nor expect. That’s why the EFF advocates for legislation that requires companies to get permission before they collect, use, or share personal data — particularly where that collection, use, or transfer is not necessary to provide the service. Broad data collection can tell a lot about a person, and becomes even more troubling as firms use consumer products in ways that support law enforcement surveillance — think, for example, of Ring’s police partnerships. Tech employees are speaking up against having their work be used to further surveillance. I’d like more companies to not only consider whether they can build such systems, but rather whether they should.”

Luther Lowe, SVP of Public Policy at Yelp

“Google needs to make design decisions that reoxygenate the open web.”

Rumman Chowdhury, Global Lead for Responsible AI at Accenture Applied Intelligence

“The only way to build trust in algorithmic systems is to give people the ability to manage and own their information and use technology the way it best suits their needs. Regular people need to be a part of the conversation.”

Tim Chevalier, Activist, Former Software Engineer at Google

“It’s never been more obvious that tech company leaders will abuse their power given any opportunity, whether that means doing ICE’s homework or paying millions to sexual harassers. But as long as tech workers are more interested in competing with each other for better performance ratings than in redirecting energy towards creativity and away from comparing and ranking, the bosses, cops, and harassers will win.

“By starting to see themselves as workers, and organizing unions like all workers who have successfully reclaimed power, tech workers will take control of how their hard work gets put to use. And to overturn hierarchies rather than creating new ones, union organizing efforts have to be led by multiply marginalized people who prioritize overturning dominance hierarchies based on race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, and every other mechanism for dividing ‘us’ from ‘them.’ When we work together, we can reclaim the wealth we create through our labor and the power that is rightfully ours.”

James Whittaker, Scientist and Engineer, Formerly of the FBI, Google, and Microsoft

Tech needs to find its conscience and own up to the damage it is doing to its user’s mental health and social well-being. Maybe in 2020, think of the world first and profits second for a change.”

Rachel Thomas, Director of USF Center for Applied Data Ethics and Co-Founder of fast.ai

When Baltimore Police used facial recognition to identify citizens protesting the death of Freddie Gray (a Black man killed by police), this had a chilling impact on civil rights. When tech companies profit from amplifying incendiary, toxic, or misleading content (such as white supremacist propaganda or anti-vaxxer pseudoscience) this has a poisoning impact on society. When Facebook ads for housing are not shown to Black or Latinx families, or when ads for jobs are not shown to older workers, this harms our civil rights.

“These are systemic problems, and we need thoughtful regulation to address them. We need laws to stop the unnecessary collection and use of invasive personal data, to provide accountability and limits on the use of surveillance technology by police, and to address algorithmic discrimination. While ethics education and internal corporate ethics efforts can be valuable, they will not be sufficient, and regulation is necessary to safeguard civil and human rights, related to the criminal justice system, jobs, housing, privacy, health care, and other crucial areas.”

Oliver Cameron, CEO of the Self-Driving Car Startup Voyage

2020 will bring about amazing things for the technology industry if we focus our energies on the challenges felt by those outside of Silicon Valley.”

Head of Platform Stories, Technology @Medium. 👩🏽‍💻

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