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The ‘move fast and break things’ era is over, say UK tech workers

Almost one in five UK tech workers surveyed by Doteveryone said they have quit jobs over ethical or moral concerns.

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Tech workers are starting to vote with their feet and leaving jobs they feel could have negative consequences for people and society, according to the new People, Power and Technology: The Tech Workers’ View report from independent think-tank Doteveryone.

 

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of over 1,000 tech workers surveyed in the UK said they have seen decisions made about a technology that they felt could have negative consequences for people or society. Nearly one in five (18 per cent) of those said they went on to leave their companies as a result.

 

 

The potential negative consequences these workers identified include the addictiveness of technologies, the negative impact on social interaction and the potential for unemployment due to automation by technology.

 

The potential negative consequences these workers identified include the addictiveness of technologies, the negative impact on social interaction and the potential for unemployment due to automation by technology.

 

They also highlighted failures in safety and security and inadequate testing before product releases.

 

Regulation

 

Government regulation is the preferred mechanism among tech workers to ensure the consequences of technology for people and society are taken into account. However, almost half of those surveyed (45 per cent) believe their sector is currently regulated too little.

 

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) would like more time and resources to think about the impacts of their products, and three-quarters (78 per cent) say they need practical resources to help them.

 

Currently, they say they rely most on their personal moral compass, conversations with colleagues and internet searches to assess the potential consequences of their work.

 

Optimism

 

Despite their concerns, the vast majority of tech workers believe technology is a force for good. 90 per cent say technology has benefited them individually and 81 per cent feel that it’s benefited society as a whole.

 

90 per cent say technology has benefited them individually and 81 per cent feel that it’s benefited society as a whole.

 

 

Looking ahead, respondents highlighted the potential of technology to address issues like climate change and transform healthcare.

 

A statement from Doteveryone said: “Every technology worker that leaves a company does so at a cost of £30,000. The cost of not addressing workers’ concerns is bad for business — especially when the market for skilled workers is so competitive.

 

“Our research shows that tech workers believe in the power of their products to drive positive change — but they cannot achieve this without ways to raise their concerns, draw on expertise, and understand the possible outcomes of their work.

 

"Counter to the well-worn narrative that regulation and guidance kill innovation, this research shows they are now essential ingredients for talent management, retention and motivation.”

 

Doteveryone made a series of recommendations for businesses:

  • Implement transparent processes for staff to raise ethical and moral concerns in a supportive environment
  • Invest in training and resources that help workers understand and anticipate the social impact of their work
  • Use industry-wide standards and support the responsible innovation standard being developed by the BSI – 78 per cent of workers favour such a framework
  • Engage with the UK government to share best practice and support the development of technology-literate policy-making and regulation
  • Rethink professional development, so workers in emerging fields can draw on a wider skills and knowledge base — not just their own ingenuity and resources

The think-tank urged governments to provide incentives for responsible innovation and embed this into the UK Industrial Strategy

 

The statement added: “It is time for the tech industry to move beyond gestures towards ethical behaviour — rather than drafting more voluntary codes and recruiting more advisory boards, it is time to double down on responsible practice. Workers — particularly those in the field of AI — want practical guidelines so they can innovate with confidence.”

 

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