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Social Implications of Disruptive Technologies

1944 Ecolution of Social Corporate

New technologies continue to evolve in different sectors, but not all of them are able to impact the way people live. Some of them are not capable of influencing people’s decisions or encourage them to change their priorities.

There are new technologies though that are bound to disrupt the economy and society.

Disrupting Economies and Society

The economic repercussions of disruptive technology are widely known. New markets that opened job opportunities to a lot of people have been created.  New suppliers for the novel industries have been tapped, widening the economic benefits to a broader base of the population. However, after industries, and the economy in general, benefit from these new technologies, the consequences of the disruption are barely addressed.

Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize foundation said, “The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities.”

Disruptive technology is about to change in a revolutionary manner. It is like finding a path around a problem and streamlining it to squeeze the most benefits out of it. A disruptive technology would find a way to create a ladder for a shorter path. Sometimes the solution to a problem is not always linear.

Disruptive technologies can be optimized to benefit both the business world and society. Business and technology leaders can build new markets for technologies and products. It will be a unique opportunity also for business leaders to leave a legacy for their industry and the world. Business and technology leaders should formulate a clear layout of the social impact of the new technologies that they will introduce.

Today’s disruptive technologies are looking towards multiple levels of returns. There is the impact on environment, as well as the future consequences of the technology. Today’s biggest tech projects are aimed at a population of 9.7 billion people by 2050. These include answering questions like “how to feed 9.7 billion people”, “what technologies to use in creating housing for 2050”, “how to harness renewable energy for isolated rural communities” etc.

New Technologies, New Opportunities

As businesses evolve and capitalize on new technologies, there should be a recognition of the enhanced roles they play in using disruptive technologies. They should design models that will drive transformative change and positive social impact for their new products. Businesses that are able to innovate and create methods that incorporate the social impact missions into their strategies will likely get the recognition and acknowledgement that will ensure their growth and longevity of operations.

There is a conscious mindset change in businesses. Disruptive technologies may or may not have created the change, but these technologies are usually associated with the change in mindset. New technologies address existing conditions as well as underserved consumers, new or future issues and include long-term plans of up to 20 years or longer. In including underserved communities or customer segments, the feedback can be a resource in themselves. This has led to the popularity of crowdsourcing, making the consumer part of the funding and prototyping process. People as a resource are used in hackathons, building use cases, high-level designs. Their involvement in programs helps include needed input for a wider audience, and a bigger potential market.

Considering the Social Impact

Many businesses today are guided by social impact as the strategic driver of their values. They are not adopting a social impact mindset that differentiates products and markets from the mainstream and expect to attract new talents and eliminate contentious regulatory relationships. What used to be mere public relations ploy has now been incorporated as part of corporate strategy to create values.

Most business organizations today make very little investment in social impact programs, volunteer work and charitable donations. Only a small percentage of them may be considered as having made driving changes to include social impact to their strategies and goals.

There’s a lot companies can do to include social impact to their programs. The food industry could use biotechnology to make their products affordable and beneficial to the health profile of the users. Finance companies should find ways to democratize banking and micro-transactions. The entertainment business should partner with the educational sector to advance augmented and virtual reality in order to revolutionize education and learning. The manufacturing industry could utilize 3D printing to provide the basic necessities and affordable housing for the world’s poor. The healthcare industry should utilize digital medicine tools and tech to democratize and reinvent new ways diseases can be prevented, diagnosed and treated.

Innovation to support the poor and aspirational segments of the market will be a nice place to start. Disruption begins on the fringes of the market, involving little-known players who have no leverage against giant mainstream brands. Business strategies should be supportive of this market segment that is capable of creating products that are more sustainable and affordable. This market sector must be supported in their desire to create cheap products that will benefit those at the margin of the society.

There should also be innovation in the business ecosystem. Whereas businesses for profit look at the nonprofits and the NGOs as competitors, they should now work in a cooperative effort to find opportunities to complement one another in solving the social problems that hinder their growth.

Planning and Developing New Business Models

Disruptive technologies should go hand-in-hand with changes in the mindset of business leaders. They should address the needs of the underserved members of society, help in the social challenges of their suppliers and impose a limit on the infrastructure required for a sustained commitment to serve their market. This will also involve changes in planning, product development process and in business models.

Players in the emerging technologies should not forget the ethical considerations and consequences of their products. Those working in the robotics, field of artificial intelligence, 3D printing and others should be clearly aware of the possible impacts on security, safety, privacy, and regulatory concerns, as well as the potential ethical and social impacts of their creations. They should work to mitigate the impacts of their work.

The aim of disruptive technologies is to create a world of abundance, with the impact of the new technologies evenly shared and distributed. But it will not happen. As the world today is clearly divided between the rich and the poor, the world of abundance that will be created by disruptive technologies will also be divided. This time, the division will be between those who have the technological knowledge of the new technologies and use them and those who do not have the knowledge and will be displaced from their jobs because they cannot cope up with the new processes of creating things.

Disruptive technologies will involve breakthrough innovations that will be afforded by those with the knowledge or have the means to purchase what the knowledge can produce. This sector will leave behind a segment of the population, keeping the world still divided into two groups.

As the digital divide keeps on growing, there will be a need for a new type of leadership that can minimize the gap. There will be the need for technologically literate leaders that will provide education and training to help the sector that was left behind due to lack of knowledge to be slowly assimilated into the mainstream. The new leaders will have to rethink or reinvent the new social norms and social contracts, with all segments of the society taking part in the process.

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