When an American university developed 'Elite', a highly skilled robot that can diagnose mental illnesses in humans without human intervention, it presented its invention to the public. Responses ranged from fascination and admiration for cutting-edge use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to anger and panic at the possibility of a mysterious future in which machines with no regard to values or ethics could have the upper hand. Some people expressed concern about the future of millions of workers if robots took over the field of psychiatry.
Every view has its merit and justification. Unregulated technology poses a real risk, but doing away with it, is far from offering a remedy or solution.
If we revisit the Industrial Revolution, we will find that this type of concern set the foundation for corporate social responsibility (CSR). The story began with increasing interest in the Industrial Revolution's impact on human health and environmental safety. Communities started putting pressure on factories and companies to increase social considerations in their plans and strategies. It took over 150 years for the concept of global social responsibility to take shape in the form of 'Social Responsibilities of the Businessman,' a book by Howard Bowen (in 1953), an American economist and the founding father of social responsibility we know today.
Today, a vast majority of companies boast about their social responsibility. However, the world has changed. While social responsibility evolved to include public health, community development, and the environment, our digital safety remains a key humanitarian challenge.
In 2015, experts at the United Nations had warned that a comprehensive shift towards digitisation would require handling a new type of responsibility. With the release of the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection, the term corporate digital responsibility (CDR) appeared for the first time as an ethical and humane benchmark for companies and organisations.
The guidelines for this new kind of responsibility include the need for companies to protect customer privacy, be transparent in procedures for dealing with consumer's data, develop plans to enhance the digital competence of employees and customers alike. Companies should also contribute to providing cybersecurity of communities and individuals, and give an ethical and humane dimension to digital transformation plans and strategies so that profit is not the sole driver of such policies.
In the UAE, we are looking closely at the future of smart cities, where digital transformation is a top priority, and AI plays a central role in life. Organisations should start now rather than later to redraft and revamp their social responsibility strategies to ensure that they address the challenges of today, not the past.
Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori is the Director General, TRA