On September 28 and 29, 2022 we held the first Congress on Responsible Technology in Ecuador. This hybrid and multidisciplinary meeting included international panelists and guests from many sectors, discussing the role of Latin America in the construction and use of technology for all.
The Congress was a space for exchanging ideas on the subject of technology, making its consequences visible and discussing its responsible design, development and use. The topic is important not only for technologists, but for all people to learn about actions for the region, from students, workers, workers and social movements to technologists and CEOs. This is why this Responsible Tech Congress made a special emphasis on building a dialogue between the academy, the tech industry and civil society.
A professor from a guest college commented that his perspective changed after attending the two-day conference. “I want to thank Thoughtworks Ecuador for the invitation to the Congress and the openness for students. They wanted to participate and they were very motivated, there is a lot of interest and I love that.”
A concept under construction: Responsible tech
We had two keynote speakers–our CTO, Rebecca Parsons and Langdon Winner. Seventeen panelists shared projects, research, insights and new perspectives based on their vision from the southern quadrant.
Rebecca Parsons emphasized in her inaugural lecture that, while technological innovation is a major development in transforming various economic and social aspects, it is still very difficult to predict its consequences, which can lead to the creation of hostile technologies, such as weapons. "That is why such innovations must include the concept of responsibility and evaluate from different points of view the impacts of the solutions that are created, to anticipate their possible impacts, and employ mechanisms that minimize those risks.”
As a concept under construction, Responsible technology seeks to ensure a balanced relationship between technology, society and the environment. Therefore it is necessary to assess technology in terms of ethical and responsible principles, analyze the risks and social implications of its use, and incorporate values of equity and inclusion, to integrate a common good lens and a rights-based approach to access, privacy and security.
Our second keynote, Langdon Winner, Thomas Phelan Chair of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, spoke on "Responsible Technology and the Agonies of Reparation" in which he said that, “In talking about technology and ethical responsibility, the tendency is to look at the present and into the future. However, as a provocation today, I want to ask you to consider a different route -- to ponder the moral dimensions of situations with roots in the distant past and continuing over significant periods of time, not today or in the immediate future. My hope is that time travel of that sort can shed light upon critical situations and choices that we face today.”
Contributions and ideas at the Congress
According to María Belén Albornoz, Principal Researcher at Fairwork and professor at FLACSO Ecuador, Artificial Intelligence can play a fundamental role in Ecuador and Latin America, as it is multipurpose in nature and has a great predictive capacity, which could help solve various economic, political and social challenges facing the region. She emphasized the fact that this opportunity also comes with fundamental challenges, being a deep democratic participation and debate on the design and development of technology, the key for building a technology that can benefit all.
As an example of the potential of technological solutions to contribute to the resolution of social problems, the creation of initiatives such as 'Conectadxs', a laboratory that seeks to reduce digital divides through the promotion of tools for social transformation, stands out. Conextadxs support social organizations that promote the development of digital skills, helping children and young people discover opportunities for technical careers and so technology becomes an opportunity for social transformation.
According to Samantha Gordillo, Head of Social Change & DEI at Thoughtworks Ecuador, for Thoughtworks it is of the utmost importance to generate these spaces where different actors can share and discuss the impact of technology for social transformation. "The development and implementation of new technologies is moving slowly in Latin America due to the socioeconomic limitations and the lack of resources invested for this purpose. We need spaces like this Congress to open the door to discuss and propose strategies for improvement and solutions to the various problems".
We hope that this will be the first of many events where we can begin to question the way we create technology. These conversations are essential to ensure that everyone can create and consume technology and not hold us back, but support us collectively to move forward.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.