Copenhagen Tech Festival attempts to be human

A woman is standing on stage and giving a talk as the audience look on.  On the screen behind the speaker it reads: Now go get paid.

writer icon Kay Lagercrantz     Techfestival   |   Tech     🕐 11. Sep. 2018

This year the Copenhagen Tech Festival had the slogan “Where Humans and Technology Meet”. They were clearly making an effort to suggest a focus on humanity and tech coming together.

Running from the 5-9 September, the festival included corporate discussions on how to integrate the startup environment, as well as equality talks on how technology paints a picture of the sexes. It was an opportunity for participants of all backgrounds to join together, discuss progress and learn from one another.

Organisers declared the festival unique, due to the fact that none of the speakers were paid to appear or give talks. The aim was clearly to give the impression of pure goodwill with zero bias.

KMD was one of the companies who contributed financially to the festival. Exactly how much, remains unknown.

Double standards
The CTO of KMD, Hans Jayatissa, also happened to be presenting at the festival. He talked about how they work on different projects and mentioned, in the same breath, that they always consider the ethical aspect. He then said that they were very happy to be working and collaborating with Google, and that KMD has so much data they almost do not know what to do with it.

As well as giving money to the festival, KMD paid their own journalist to paint a positive image of KMD.

The reality of the discussions
It was disturbing how frequently participants at the festival were asked to ignore questions of privacy or security for the sake of an exercise. Repeatedly, discussions were led on the basis that ethics should be ignored for the duration of the conversation.

The argument seemed to be that by removing ethics from the debate, people could propose more ideas and potential developments, something that many people in the conversation were openly excited about.

The Copenhagen Letter
This year, there was still much discussion about The Copenhagen Letter. Created at last years Tech Festival, it is a manifest for a new direction in Technology. The Copenhagen Letter calls for design centred on humanity and for a continuous public scrutiny, as well as many other ethical goals, and companies are keen to attach their name to it.

The letter states that it is “Time to put humans before business” and “hold each other accountable”. One must wonder if this letter is enough to make a difference, or if it is merely a way for businesses to feel good about themselves, without making any real, effective changes.

The importance of clean statistics
Jacob Knobel, the owner of Datapult, led a talk on AI. He shared some very interesting insights into the future advancements of technology when it comes to both ethics and accuracy.

“When it comes to advancement in AI, the democratic West will likely value causality over correlation,” 
he said.

Knobel is, of course, referring to the statistical rule that just because two things happen at the same time, does not mean that one is causing the other. This value is important, as without it we risk misrepresenting the statistics, as well as causing harm by making assumptions, and missing the actual facts.

Bias is harmful
If companies need data in order to build their AI algorithm, but still intend to avoid bias or unethical standards, then they cannot make assumptions about their data. Knobel sees how this will affect tech advancement in the world.

“China will get there first. They don’t care. The product will be better, out quicker.”
, he declared. 

Such products may be better for the majority of people. They can also harm people with the false logic projected by the AI. This false logic is caused by inaccurate statistical data.

Knobel stated, “We have to think about what is important, and about what the consumer wants.”

Collateral damage
As soon as we start to harvest data without a thought, we ignore the impact that errors have on individuals and chalk it up as collateral damage instead.

The importance of humanism in tech becomes more apparent when one starts to look at the implications of advancing tech without it.

Festival director Marie Louise Gørvild said that she created the Tech Festival in order to make space for a new conversation about technology. She claimed that the most important discussion to be had in technology is "the one about how we apply technology into the surrounding society." 

“This is the time have a more human conversation”
, she said. “One where we think about the people who actually use this, the people that are shaped by technology on an everyday basis.”

Gørvild’s motivations are simply not in line with the reality of the festival experience. This points to naivety at best, and at worst it shows a lack of understanding of the importance of tech ethics.

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