How business can harness technology for good … Embracing the power of disruptive technologies, to better solve the world’s big challenges

September 10, 2018

Technology is not good or bad, but it does bring incredible new capabilities. The question is how can we unleash these fantastic new technologies to make a positive difference to our world, to solve problems in innovative ways. Even better, when the world’s most engaging brands embrace these technologies how can they create attractive and profitable solutions, that also have a positive impact on our society too.

The recent World Economic Forum used the phrase “creating a shared future in a fractured world”. Maybe this is a vision that can galvanize world leaders, corporate bosses and regular people to come together and share a single positive future outcome? Is it possible that such actions are already underway all over the world but at a grassroots level? #Metoo, #timesup and #innovationforgood are all conversations driving us toward action, and technology is front and center in enabling this shared vision and making it a reality.

Yes, robots and AI could outplace, displace and possibly even replace workforces all over the world, but there are so many positive and catalyzing innovations today that I choose to view the glass as half full. Innovation for good was a major topic of panel discussions at Davos this year. Innovations that are serving humanity and improving human conditions are shared throughout the summary document — from improving education in our schools and workforce skills in the most rural areas of the world to changing deep-seated beliefs by using the power of virtual reality to build empathy through experiences.

Here is just one example from the WEF-AM18 report of how VR empowered positive change deep in the Amazon: “Awavena, created by Australian artist Lynette Wallworth, is a virtual reality journey deep into the Amazon. It tells the story of Hushuhu, the first woman shaman of the Yawanawa tribe. It took the courage of the dying male shaman to break with centuries of taboo and give Hushuhu his blessing. Since then, the Yawanawa tribe has seven female and seven male chiefs.”

Innovations will create opportunities we haven’t even imagined yet. Understanding some of the possibilities may open our minds to new ways of working or helping you create your own innovations for good. I’ll share several to get your brainwaves flowing.

Her are some examples of incredible technologies that are changing the world for the better:

AI fighting poverty 

We’ve all heard about how artificial intelligence could have great potential benefits for society, but these benefits stretch beyond the workplace or our homes. According to a recently published New York Times article, AI might be able to combat the longstanding war on poverty: “Poverty, of course, is a multifaceted phenomenon. But the condition of poverty often entails one or more of these realities: a lack of income (joblessness); a lack of preparedness (education); and a dependency on government services (welfare). AI can address all three.”

AI could offer better job matching for lower-income workers, it could help identify needed job skills and it could aid in custom skills training or retraining to prepare lower-income people for better jobs. This technology can remove much of the guesswork as to how to improve humanity overall and support those living in extreme poverty.

QTrobot

QTrobot is helping kids with autism learn. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism affects 1 in every 68 children.

This humanoid body enables QTrobot to teach facial expressions, emotions and body language to children with autism. Taking some pressure off of parents and aiding therapists to keep children with autism engaged in learning will provide great relief to both.

Songs of violence

Thousands of songs around the world in every language promotes violence against women. Many parents do not realize how much offensive music lyrics are permeating our culture and making gender-based biases and violent acts seem commonplace. Violence against anyone is not normal. But we are not always licensing to the lyrics intently; we love the beats, but we don’t always pay attention to the context of the song.

Using artificial intelligence — and the widely used music platform recently acquired by Apple — Shazam and advertising agency FCB teamed up to identify songs with violence and match them with testimonies from women who suffered the same kind of abuse for the world to read. Making these atrocities more public and showing the relationships between the lyrics and the acts of violence makes the world more aware and helps people take personal action on their own accord to stop licensing, buying and sharing likes to songs that influence bad behavior.

3D printers for the human body

An interesting outcome of autonomous transportation of the future is the potential reduction of organ donations due to lower accident rates. Enter 3D printers like the one used at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine for replacement tissues and organs. Custom-designed 3-D printers have the ability today to keep cells alive. These cells are then used to print organs that are strong enough for a transplant. Clinical trials are already in process so the prospects of 3-D printed organs replacing donor organs by the time autonomous vehicles are mainstream is a viable reality.

So many great “innovations for good” ideas are emerging. I challenge myself and my teams every day to consider what more we can do with our technologies and the minds around our conference room tables. I challenge you to consider what your company could do by leveraging all the competencies you have in-house. Whether your products and solutions are technically advanced or not, consider what you could do to innovate something that promotes “creating a shared future in a fractured world.” It’s the only way for people to coexist and thrive in the transformative world of robots, AI and the onslaught of technologies blanketing our world.

Some of the world’s most influential tech business leaders were recently asked how they thought technologies could be focused for more positive impact, whilst still achieving their business goals. Indeed the win-win is when the impact is profitable and positive, and therefore has a sustaining business model.

Charities too have embraced technologies for direct social benefits. Of course charities still need a business model, to secure funding, to manage their costs, and maximise their impacts.

LearnStorm is Khan Academy’s free, back-to-school program that gives teachers a powerful way to jump start the school year. By combining growth–mindset activities and lesson-aligned practice, LearnStorm drives mastery of core academic skills, motivates classrooms, and builds students’ confidence.

Inspired by UK charity Comic Relief Tech for Good campaign, Alexandra Rose and Neon Tribe have worked together to update part of the Rose Voucher scheme, moving the reimbursement of market traders from paper vouchers to a digital system, saving time and money and helping the project to expand.

Our oceans are dying, but you can help save them. All you need to do is run. Adidas Parley was a collaboration which started with the purpose to rid the oceans of plastic waste, and turn it into new threads, ultra strong fabrics for running shoes.

Sweden-based Trine is a crowdfunding platform that enables individuals to invest in solar energy projects in Africa, with the opportunity to earn a return on investment of up to 6%. Its solar energy projects have already helped to reduce over 50,000 tonnes of CO2 and have provided more than 170,000 people with electricity. Trine helps investors to build an ethical investment portfolio while benefiting the planet, as well as supporting local businesses and families in rural areas who don’t have access to clean energy.

Waste shark is an aqua drone that swims through the water cleaning it of trash. Inspired by the whale shark, the WasteShark aquadrone swims through water to collect trash out of rivers, ports, and marinas. The WasteShark also has other capabilities that aim to create a better water environment.

Apple and Stanford University collaborated on a global study using the Apple Watch to detect abnormal heart rhythms. Apple has teamed up with Stanford Medicine to use data garnered from a new Apple Watch app to determine whether a user is experiencing abnormal heart rhythms.

Solar power has been an elusive idea for millions of Africans because of its high cost and slow technology, but could become one of the cheapest sources of power. In Kenya’s Machakos County M-Kopa is providing affordable power using solar energy and changing lives.

Chatterbox was created to find meaningful work for the underutilised talent of refugees. It does this by arranging language lessons taught by native speakers. Founded in 2016 by Mursal Hedayat, a refugee from Afghanistan. who fled the country as a three-year-old in 1994. She arrived in the UK with her mother, a civil engineer who spoke four languages but struggled to find work.

Morocco’s Atlan Space has developed AI-guided drones that can search the seas for environmental crimes. The system uses distributed deep learning technologies to verify whether boats in the oceans are acting as authorised, and to classify different species of marine life and identify every individual in the category. The autonomous network of aerial vehicles can then provide intelligence on illegal fishing and oil spills to intervention teams.

California-based Zipline operates drone services that deliver blood, vaccines and medicines to difficult to reach areas, saving lives, reducing disease and improving healthcare. Currently operating in Rwanda and Tanzania, the company provides medical care for all who need it, no matter how remote they are or how difficult the terrain.

According to Dublin-based Aid:Tech, 30% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) money is lost each year. The Aid:Tech solution uses a ‘smart card’ to create a digital identity comprised of a recipient’s ID, electronic cash, social welfare entitlements, and health and dental records to help governments, NGOs and charities better distribute aid funding.

Dr Sally Eaves focuses in on how we can enable disruptive technology to truly become ‘Tech for Good’. This talk aims to provide the inspiration around what technology can help enable, but also a provocative exploration, vision and call to action around how this can be achieved at scale:

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