In the decade since the world teetered on the brink of financial collapse, few would deny that technology has played a fundamental role in reshaping our lives. Although the internet revolution was well under way as the US housing market collapse precipitated a global catastrophe, the pace of tech progress since 2008 has moved at dizzying speed. Compared with then, technology plays a much more fundamental role in our daily lives. The way we work, the way we play, the way we communicate, increasingly the way we travel... the way we experience the world overall is now much more digitally driven, and this is only going to accelerate. While the benefits of this decade-long tech boom have often been significant, this has not come without its problems. Tech has an image problem, and it's our collective responsibility to help address it.

The 451 Take

This is a fantastic industry, with talent, passion, creativity and entrepreneurship that surely outrival any other. Collectively, this talent has created, and continues to create, products, services and experiences that make our lives immeasurably better. Let's make sure we also harness this energy to shape a future world in which we all want to live.

The benefits that the tech explosion of the last decade has brought us are manifest: the speed with which we can get things done; the ways we can communicate, regardless of where we are; the distances we can cross; and the sheer breadth of opportunity that a global, digitally connected world opens up are all enormous. The tech boom has helped lift millions out of poverty in Asia and the developing world. It has created entirely new ways of working; it has transformed, and continues to transform, entire industries. It continues to be a major driver of economic growth and wealth creation globally.

Yet there are issues. Questions and uncertainties about exactly how the digital revolution is impacting us abound: major digital security breaches are now routine, the emergence of 'fake news' – and the scope for information manipulation to sinister political ends – seems like a genie that is out of the bottle, and our kids (and many adults) are becoming unhealthily addicted to their digital devices and social platforms. Technology can be a force for good, but we must also pay close attention to some of the negative consequences, intended or otherwise.

The relation of these concerns to the banking crisis of a decade ago is important; although the tech industry has bounced back, the effects of the recession are still felt keenly by many. In the western world, economic inequality has risen over the past 10 years, and these divides could be exacerbated further as technology continues to evolve, sowing greater social and political tension. There is understandable nervousness at the potential of technologies such as AI to further dispossess those already feeling disenfranchised. Aside from the obvious threat to existing jobs, the unintended consequences of this – such as in the rise of populism globally – are all too evident.

Meanwhile, the tech industry itself is hardly problem-free. Diversity at many tech firms continues to be a real challenge, while some executive conduct is beyond the pale (although this is not confined to tech). Governments, politicians and even religious leaders the world over are asking questions about the control, motivation and even ethics of the technology giants. This all points to the fact that the days of viewing tech – and tech firms – as 'universally good' are well and truly over.

Here at 451 Research, it is not our job to fix these issues; that is the domain of policymakers, lawmakers and politicians, as well as individuals and corporations themselves. Nor do we have all of the answers, or intend to pass judgement. Yet we feel that there is a need for a proper, open debate about what sort of future we are creating here. As we stand in 2018, it's increasingly clear that tech has an image problem, and while some predictions about us sleepwalking into a dystopian nightmare are hyperbolic, there is also more than a kernel of truth to many of these concerns.

Although we don't profess to have all the answers, what we do have is experience, perspective and the ability to think critically. In short, we believe we can contribute to the discussion. In fact, we already are – for example, we have commented on how algorithms can be augmented in AI to avoid or reduce bias, we have written on the interrelation of consumer data privacy and accountability, and we have commented on the unsuitability of current antitrust rules to govern data-based 'intelligence.' Stay tuned for some exciting developments around our AI coverage in particular; this is a major focus area for us, and as the industry continues to embrace the AI potential, we will also be paying close attention to the ethical side of widespread artificial intelligence adoption.

This is just the start, however, and we are committed to helping drive the debate around these and other such topics. Just as an organization's technology and digital strategy is now 'way too important to be left only to the IT department,' the impact of technology on society overall deserves a wider hearing. If you are interested, we invite you to join the conversation.

Simon Robinson
Senior Vice President - Research

Simon Robinson is responsible for managing the 451 Research analyst team, shaping the overall research agenda and driving the firm’s short-form and long-form research reports. Simon’s own coverage focuses on infrastructure topics, including storage, compute, converged and software-defined infrastructure.

Al Sadowski
Research Vice President - Voice of the Service Providers

Al is responsible for 451 Research’s Voice of the Service Provider offering. He focuses on tracking and analyzing service provider adoption of emerging infrastructure, spanning compute, storage, networking and software-defined infrastructure.
Jean Atelsek
Analyst, Cloud Price Index

Jean Atelsek is an analyst for 451 Research’s Digital Economics Unit, focusing on cloud pricing in the US and Europe. Prior to joining 451 Research, she was an editor at Ovum, spiffing up reports, forecasts and data tools covering telecoms and service providers, fixed and wireless networks, and consumer technology among other topics. 

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