Designers are the public servants of the modern world. We make decisions that impact millions—sometimes billions—of people worldwide. Below, Design Good founder Joe Toscano talks about why it’s time we take our responsibility seriously.
Consider the fact that at this point in history these facts are all true:
- Engineers can get in legal trouble for the code they write (source)
- Apple Watch data is being used as evidence in a murder trial (source)
- There is currently a battle going on between Microsoft and the United States government about how borders should be considered when thinking about privacy on the cloud (source)
With algorithms now operating as governing bodies of our world, these are steps we need to take. Because if we look at how regulation might be implemented, there are really only three ways this plays out:
1. We continue down the path we’re on and don’t regulate.
This option is already playing out. Sure, we have light regulation in place in the United States, but it is very loose-ended and open for interpretation. This regulation was built with the intention that corporations would adopt a sense of social responsibility. And as we’ve seen, that’s not the case.
Without regulation in the near future, this will lead to an unmonitored arms race, similar to the nuclear arms race experienced between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The surmounting powers of these modern data empires have invisibly wrapped around our world and will undoubtedly outweigh the power of any nation-state, country, or empire we have come to know over the course of human history. This, like the nuclear arms race, will become unsafe for everyone involved. Following this path will result in destruction unlike any military expedition we’ve ventured on before. And it will be done in pursuit of corporate profit.
2. Regulation gets put in place by those who don’t fully understand the system or what’s going on.
Too much regulation can very easily put countries in harm’s way, from both an economic and military perspective.
From an economic perspective driving companies out of the country due to overregulation is dangerous because the countries that choose to do so will fall far behind in terms of innovation. And while this is bad, there should be even greater concern from a military perspective. Falling behind in this race will leave nations so far behind they’ll be unable to secure themselves in times of threat.
There is plenty of research stating the dangers on both sides of this argument, and it should be recognized that trying to shut these systems down out of fear is not a reasonable option. Instead, we have to embrace these systems and work to make a governing strategy that ensures the safety of everyone involved.
We should focus on creating fluid, adaptable regulating systems that proactively promote public safety and reinforce corporate responsibility while still allowing these companies to flourish economically. Which brings us to the third option.
3. We accept that regulation is necessary, get involved in our communities, and discuss the options.
Not all companies are as large as the Facebooks, Googles, or Amazons of the world. But we all design systems that impact people’s lives. And when those systems are driven by algorithms that are invisible to the public, protected as IP, it’s important we take our role as designers and engineers more seriously.
We have become the modern government representatives to our public of users as constituents. It’s time we do our job and fight for their rights, not just push pixels to drive the bottom line without considering our impact.
For this reason global network of experts have started a 501(c)(3) called Design Good. They will be working on a two-part mission, which is to
(1) help improve data and technical literacy within the general population and
(2) provide technologists with knowledge and tools that enable them to create products that not only respond to informed consumer demand but also create positive social impact while still increasing revenue.
Through this organization they will supply technologists with cutting-edge research to make sure we know what’s going on and how it applies to modern regulations, tutorials to teach us the best way to design these systems within the limitations of modern regulation, and design assets to help us speed up our process. These tools will be developed with the knowledge of world-class individuals working on some of the biggest issues of our lifetime.