We’re in the midst of a revolution, characterised by rapid advances in technology and known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The sophistication and interconnectivity of these new technologies are driving change that’s faster and more radical than ever before, with both businesses and individuals having to adapt quickly.
Like those that preceded it, this next generation of technology could be a powerful force for good. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain have the potential to tackle many of the world’s most pressing problems, from climate change and resource depletion to inequality, modern slavery and disease. They’ll also drive economic development. But these same technological advances could have unintended consequences, accelerating risks to the planet and society, if they’re not applied in a smart and sustainable way.
“A balanced and responsible approach to technology is needed – one that maximises its potential for good while minimising potentially adverse social, ethical and environmental concerns.”
In response to this need, PwC UK has developed and adopted a ‘responsible technology’ approach, which emanates from PwC’s purpose – to build trust in society and solve important problems – and aligns with our values and commitment to ‘acting with integrity’ while ‘reimagining the possible’.
To translate responsible technology into reality, the UK firm has published a policy which commits the firm to both showcase technology’s positive role to clients, while mitigating negative impacts from using technology in PwC’s own business in four key areas: jobs and skills; health and wellbeing; privacy, security and integrity; and the environment. We’ve already implemented programmes in each area.
For example, at the World Economic Forum 2017 PwC launched a report – ‘Innovation for the Earth’ – exploring how combinations of technologies could deliver a step-change in energy, transport and food systems and help address climate change. And PwC’s Global Annual CEO Survey raised questions about the impacts of technology on people and trust. Meanwhile, the UK firm sends old laptops and smartphones to be refurbished and resold – reducing the carbon, water and raw material footprint of technology used in its business, and creating work experience for disadvantaged groups in the process. We're also adapting our recruitment and people practices to take account of technology.
There are many benefits to implementing a responsible technology approach. It not only enhances PwC’s reputation as a responsible business, but PwC’s work on ‘digital dieting’ also improves the well-being and productivity of our workforce, and the introduction of ‘digital apprenticeships’ increases the diversity of our recruits and allows us to tap into the best talent. Meanwhile, PwC’s work on remanufacturing old IT equipment generates a revenue stream for the business as well as delivering social and environmental value, and creates a feel good factor for staff that they work for a business that is a sustainability leader.
We know, however, that issuing a policy, is only a first step. Because of the speed of technological change, we’ll review the policy regularly, and seek others’ views to improve our collective understanding of technology’s relationship with business and society.