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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From software and IoT to decarbonization and nanotech, here's what 10 energy tech startups you should look out for. Photo via Getty Images

This week, energy startups pitched virtually for venture capitalists — as well as over 1,000 attendees — as a part of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's 18th annual Energy and Clean Tech Venture Forum.

At the close of the three-day event, Rice Alliance announced its 10 most-promising energy tech companies. Here's which companies stood out from the rest.

W7energy

Based in Delaware, W7energy has created a zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicle technology supported by PiperION polymers. The startup's founders aim to provide a more reliable green energy that is 33 percent cheaper to make.

"With ion exchange polymer, we can achieve high ionic conductivity while maintaining mechanical strength," the company's website reads. "Because of the platform nature of the chemistry, the chemical and physical properties of the polymer membranes can be tuned to the desired application."

Modumetal

Modumetal, which has its HQ in Washington and an office locally as well, is a nanotechnology company focused on improving industrial materials. The company was founded in 2006 by Christina Lomasney and John Whitaker and developed a patented electrochemical process to produce nanolaminated metal alloys, according to Modumetal's website.

Tri-D Dynamics

San Francisco-based Tri-D Dynamics has developed a suite of smart metal products. The company's Bytepipe product claims to be the world's first smart casing that can collect key information — such as leak detection, temperatures, and diagnostic indicators — from underground and deliver it to workers.

SeekOps

A drone company based in Austin, SeekOps can quickly retrieve and deliver emissions data for its clients with its advance sensor technology. The company, founded in 2017, uses its drone and sensor pairing can help reduce emissions at a low cost.

Akselos

Switzerland-based Akselos has been using digital twin technology since its founding in 2012 to help energy companies analyze their optimization within their infrastructure.

Osperity

Osperity, based in Houston's Galleria area, is a software company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze and monitor industrial operations to translate the observations into strategic intelligence. The technology allows for cost-effective remote monitoring for its clients.

DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy — based in San Francisco and founded in 2013 — has raised over $92 million (according to Crunchbase) for its cloud-based drone mapping and analytics platform. According to the website, DroneDeploy has over 5,000 clients worldwide across oil and gas, construction, and other industries.

HEBI Robotics

Pittsburgh-based HEBI Robotics gives its clients the tools to build custom robotics. Founded 2014, HEBI has clients — such as NASA, Siemens, Ericsson — across industries.

CarbonFree Chemicals

CarbonFree Chemicals, based in San Antonio and founded in 2016, has created a technology to turn carbon emissions to useable solid carbonates.

SensorUp

Canadian Internet of Things company, SensorUp Inc. is a location intelligence platform founded in 2011. The technology specializes in real-time analysis of industrial operations.

"Whether you are working with legacy systems or new sensors, we provide an innovative platform that brings your IoT together for automated operations and processes," the company's website reads.

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