Technology for Safety

Last week I attended a summit run by Uber focused on Technology for Safety. The summit brought together a variety of speakers, startups and technology thinkers to discuss new tech solutions for making South Africa safer. I really enjoyed the summit and thought I would share some of my thoughts, in a rather haphazard way:

  • It’s clear that the big technology companies that have attained global scale need to be more engaged on the ground in all of their local territories. We’re seeing lots of social pressure for them to step away from the app that they so often hide behind, and engage with local stakeholders to serve users better. This trend must continue. These giants have garnered tremendous influence in a very short space of time and there are many good arguments that this influence comes with an ethical and social obligation for these corporations. This is a key trend in what I’ll call Capitalism 2.0. Whether it will actually be taken seriously by these companies remains to be seen.

  • In line with the above, social media pressure can be a powerful incentive to keep these organisations accountable. However, it requires careful organisation of thoughtful people to apply the right pressure in the right spots to actually affect change. There is a lot of noise in the system and to get through that and pierce the PR veil is not easy. Nonetheless, it’s our best tool for true grassroots change to emerge.

  • All the empty talk about the fourth industrial revolution is really frustrating. The buzzword bingo is out of control and I was disappointed by how little actual technology was discussed. Everyone can spout platitudes about the change that is to come but there are very few in-depth public conversations about specific technologies and action plans. This needs to change.

  • I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams acknowledge the hard truth that there will be casualties in this revolution as various jobs and industries are automated away. This is not an easy statement to make politically but it’s demonstrably true and we have to accept it.

  • One of the key opportunities seems to be real-time monitoring of all sorts of systems (driving, traffic, communities, crime incidents, etc.) The mere understanding that I am being monitored is often enough to dissuade certain behaviours. This is where technology shines at scale. If we think carefully about the incentives and disincentives, we can scale real behavioural change without having to scale manpower.

  • The flip side of the above is that privacy becomes a concern. This is a tightrope that will be hotly debated and frankly I don’t know where I stand on the issue at present.

  • One line that really stuck with me was that we shouldn’t be taking all of our top young talent and funnelling them into big corporates to babysit spreadsheets. We need our top talent to be taking entrepreneurial risks and creating new solutions for our people. Hear hear.

So those are some of my thoughts. I really enjoyed the summit and am very grateful to Thabi Poopedi and the Uber team for inviting me.