Facebook’s one-time internal motto, “Move fast and break things”, has been a subject of parody for years. The social media company – now in one of the most difficult periods in its history, plagued by criticism and whistleblower leaks – is painted by some as an example of prioritizing growth above what is good for its customers and the wider society.
But while the company – rebranded last month as Meta – can be censored, his story speaks to a wider problem that has long permeated the world of technology: a belief that regulation, whether in the form of legislation by policymakers or internal ethical practices, is a threat to innovation.
This is a belief that many think business schools should challenge, by learning that innovation is not the opposite of regulation, but is inextricably linked to it. Some argue for a holistic approach to aligning companies with the public interest and also to create a better path for the future of the digital economy.
“There are different ways to understand innovation,” says Alice Thwaite, a technology ethicist and founder of the technology ethics consulting firm Hattusia. “Ethics should definitely be in that space of innovation and transformation.”
Thwaite argues that innovation, as suggested in buzzwords such as the “metaverse“, Is not considered” scary “as it should be. “It has recently become a bit too comfortable. When companies hide behind innovation, they often protect the status quo. ”
Many large technology companies are likely to fall into that trap. At their heart is an idea of innovation as a way to increase user engagement, displace competition and keep shareholders happy.
In contrast, regulation and ethics were often seen as obstacles. When companies were more proactive – like when Facebook asked for more government regulation – it was almost always during a scandal and seemed self-serving.
The formation and treatment of ethics teams also has a controlled history. Google’s artificial intelligence ethics group has become a source of growing embarrassment for the company following the departure of its co-leaders controversial circumstances.
“There’s a general tendency to talk about ethics, but do nothing about it,” says Thwaite. While ethics consultants like Hattusia are increasing, there are still concerns in the technology industry to turn to a relatively new sector. “Very few are willing to take a point,” Thwaite says.
Business school students need to understand historical failures, with an emphasis on applying this knowledge to shape ideas of innovation. This means viewing ethics as an integral part of business development, which will encourage the business leaders of the future to engage with technology ethicists, even if space remains experimental.
Training students to engage in regulations as part of the business, rather than as an obstacle to be addressed when they arise, is not only good for end users. In the long run, it can limit the risk of a problem like that facing Facebook, and the painful consequences of being brought before courts or legislators.
It can also encourage the kind of adaptive approach needed for an era of changing regulation, as politicians show a greater willingness to tackle Big (and smaller) Technology. By baking regulation in conversations around innovation, there is an opportunity to move beyond existing paradigms and propose better systems.
“Europe must not be let down simply to mitigate the damage caused by broken business models,” wrote Jan Penfrat, senior policy adviser at nonprofit European Digital Rights (EDRI). “Europe needs laws that effectively limit the power that Big Tech exercises over our lives.”
Openness to innovation and willingness to adapt are essential for the development of new technologies. In the United Kingdom, the government has tried to ensure that the country remains “the beginning of Europe”. The Kalifa overview from fintech in February and Lord Hill’s Review of Lists in April reflects a desire to retain British technology’s brilliance.
Poorly implemented or overarching regulation can be a problem, but it can be at least partially deflated by encouraging the business leaders of the future to move beyond the mistakes and limitations of the past. Embedding concepts such as harm reduction and the general interest can help limit that excess.
The Silicon Valley mindset can treat regulation as a curse, a roadblock for genius, creativity and the author-founder. However, the debacle facing Big Tech companies, especially Facebook, is a reminder that a monomaniacal focus on growth and market dominance is damaging to us all. Treating ethics and regulation as part of innovation provides an opportunity to go beyond deciding how to use existing technologies and we can guide which technologies should be created.
“Innovation is about creating new processes and products that make the world a better place,” says Thwaite. “If that’s not the purpose of business in general and not the purpose of what we are here on this planet to do, I do not see what is.”