Answering ethical questions posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. Also known as "Industry 4.0" or "4IR," it takes the technological advances of the third industrial revolution and connects them into systems that can often operate and adapt without human input. New technologies can create exciting possibilities for positive social impact on diverse issues such as income inequality and the environment.

Yet, at the same time, they often raise new, sometimes difficult, ethical questions. In fact, the irony is this: As we develop technologies that adapt without human input, we are discovering we need human input to address what constitutes the ethical use of these technologies.

As mentioned in a Deloitte article, most leaders want their organizations to create social impact. In today's competitive business environment, social impact initiatives have the ability to separate one company from its competitors in the eyes of consumers. The logic that a company "does well by doing good" has taken hold. And 4IR technologies promise to support companies' efforts to reduce carbon emissions, support diversity initiatives, and other social impact goals.

Yet some leaders are also recognizing that 4IR technologies raise ethical questions in areas such as data privacy, algorithmic bias, and potentially a lack of inclusivity in technology design.

According to Deloitte Global CEO Punit Renjen's report, "Success Personified in the Fourth Industrial Revolution," which is based on a Forbes Insights survey, C-suite executives have varying levels of concern about using technology ethically. From June-August 2018, Forbes Insights surveyed 2,042 executives (with company revenue of $1 billion or more) and public sector leaders (with organization budgets of $500 million or more) from 19 countries and all major industry sectors.

As shown in Figure 2 below, only 15 percent of the 194 CEOs/presidents surveyed are strongly concerned about ethical technology use. Surprisingly, chief information officers and chief technology officers are also at the lower end of the spectrum, at 16 percent and 17 percent, respectively. On the other hand, 41 percent of chief operating officers, 41 percent of chief digital officers, and 50 percent of chief sustainability officers are strongly concerned about ethical technology use.

This disparity in levels of concern about ethical technology use at the top of the organization often results in lack of clarity throughout the rest of the organization. Deloitte offers three recommendations to address this:

  • 1. C-Suite adoption: The CEO must prioritize ethical technology use and encourage the rest of the C-suite to do so too.
  • 2. Culture change: The C-suite must set, model, and communicate ethical use of technology and encourage buy-in from employees by allowing them to share ideas about ethical technology use.
  • 3. Adapt: As technology continues to change, companies must continue to define how to use it ethically.

Ethics are important in and of themselves. However, there may also be business benefits for prioritizing ethical use of technology.

As shown in Figure 1 below, Deloitte's analysis of the Success Personified report found a correlation between high concern for ethical use of 4IR technologies and business growth. Of the 536 respondents whose organizations had 0 percent growth, only 17 percent of them strongly agreed that their organization is highly concerned with ethically using 4IR technologies.

On the other hand, of the 148 respondents whose organizations had 10 percent or more growth, 55 percent of them strongly agreed that their organization is highly concerned with ethically using 4IR technologies.

As more companies aim to make a social impact, C-suite leaders should consider the ethics of 4IR technology implementation to grow as a business and stand out among competitors.

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This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what not to miss at the first all-virtual CERAWeek by IHS Markit. Screenshot via virtual.ceraweek.com

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

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