Busman’s Holiday: Ethical Tech Summit in NYC

I spent Saturday (20/10/2018) at the Thoughtworks offices on Madison Avenue attending the #ethicaltechsummit organised by David Ryan Polgar. I had caught wind of the event on Twitter and it sounded up my street and I always like to visit New York in ‘Fall’ so I decided to take another ‘busman’s holiday’.

Understanding the problems of the present. Co-creating a more thoughtful future.

The event was mostly brilliant — there were a bunch of fantastic talks, it was packed all day, I got to chat to some amazing people and lunch was really good. On the slight downside it didn’t make me dislike panels any less (I would have rather many of the panel members had time to just talk — I almost always do) and the slightly compact venue (for the amount of people) kind of contributed to triggering a pretty severe bout of introversion from me as I couldn’t find anywhere to chill out without leaving (and I know if I had done that I would have just gone back to Brooklyn.)

Anyway all things considered it was a really great day and I’m glad I went along. Some particular highlights for me were;

Douglas Rushkoff’s impassioned talk about putting the humanity back into technology — and how we are currently being ethically treated like free-range chickens by the internet giants! It was a a charismatic performance that sparked a lot of conversation.

Cennydd snapping back during an otherwise quite sedate panel on ‘trust and news’ when the usual suggestion that changing the ad-based business model is the key to removing all the bad behaviour of big tech. The case Cennydd Bowles made was that despite the flaws the current business models prevented ‘good information’ being reserved for the privileged — we needed to change some of the ways companies were judged (via the metrics they are held over the fire about) to change behaviours while maintaining the widest possible access to the widest web. I’m looking forward to reading his book — Future Ethics — on the topic.

Yoav Schlesinger gave a brilliant talk where he used the extended metaphor of the rise of road safety interventions in the US — particularly the move from it being all the responsibility of the driver to a shared responsibility with the manufacturers — to illustrate the journey technology needed to go on to provide a more ethical experience for technology users.

I’ve been following Cassie Robinson. on Twitter for years and have been a total fan boy for Doteveryone since Martha launched it but we have never met* so it was great to hear her speak (I spent most of the talk like a crazed Wikipedia editor on Twitter referencing everything she mentioned!) and then have a proper chat/gossip with her after. It is a shame she has moved on from Doteveryone but Tom Steinberg is lucky have her joining his team at Big Lottery.

*amusingly I think Cassie and I were literally in the same room at the same time in Austin, TX a few years ago without speaking. It was not a big room!

Getting to hear Kathy speak only a few days after raving about the Harvard Uni product for government course she teaches was amazing and it was lovely to get to chat to her briefly. It is kind of brilliant that she shares an office with Richard Pope when he is in Boston…that is a LOT of product for good thinking in one place! She was talking about the need to bring people from outside of just computer science / engineering into senior roles at tech companies — basically a call for more humanities (I of course agree!)

My ‘Killer Mike’ / Hilary leaked e-mail t-shirt was a bit of a hit as well →

So thanks to the organisers, all the speakers, the many (many) attendees and the sponsors who made it happen. See you next year? (..or at the Doteveryone conference in January!)