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10 ways we’re championing tech for good

The phrase ‘for good’ is becoming well used. Relating to tech, it signals activity that advances society, for instance braille e-readers, crowdfunding platforms, smart walking canes, identity cards for refugees. Products like Be My Eyes enabling those with visual impairments or RogerVoice and Ava, enabling the hearing impaired. The list is long.

Technology and this digital era presents a world of opportunity for people to experiment and come up with ideas ‘for good’. We’ve never had more tools available for problem solving. It’s exciting, inspiring and brings a great sense of hope to level the playing field in society around diversity and inclusion - be it financial inclusion, accessibility, social mobility or education. Nesta sponsored this year's Diversity Award at the Ability Net Tech4Good Awards as part of the fairer strand of our education strategy, building on our recent Women in AI, and gender diversity in AI work alongside other related activities like financial inclusion and our assistive technology prizes. We’ve seen really strong entries, including from the four finalists; White Hat, We Walk, Bright Little Labs and Foundervine.

We are delighted to announce that White Hat were crowned the winner at yesterday’s Tech4Good Awards ceremony. WhiteHat are a tech startup, founded to ensure young people have access to the best career-focused apprenticeships on offer. They match non-graduate talent with apprenticeship opportunities at some of the UK's most exciting companies, democratising careers.

From research, to challenge prizes to investments, here are ten ways Nesta is championing the opportunity of technology for society.

  1. We recently launched ‘Tech to Connect’, a challenge prize using ‘tech for good’ to tackle social isolation funded by the Department for Digital Culture Media & Sport. It will support civil society organisations to work with tech firms to create tools or services that help people connect with each other, or help civil society organisations better connect with their users. Applications close on 7th August, 2019.
  2. In order to tackle growing levels of antimicrobial resistance, the challenge set for the Longitude Prize is to invent an affordable, accurate, fast and easy-to-use diagnostic test for bacterial infections that will allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time.
  3. We’re working with the Toyota Mobility Foundation to encourage the next generation of smart mobility devices like exoskeletons and smart wheelchairs.
  4. In our newly-launched Legal Access Challenge, we’re encouraging the creation of smart apps and websites that help people navigate everyday legal problems.
  5. With the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize, we’ve supported innovators who are slowing the spread of a devastating agricultural pest across sub-Saharan Africa.
  6. With the Flying High Challenge we’re challenging the drone industry, often criticised for its potential negative impacts, to deliver social benefit through emergency response, medical delivery and making infrastructure safer.
  7. We’ve been exploring how technology, especially the internet of things, can improve the quality of life for older people in this digital age with the Active Assisted Living Programme.
  8. Nesta has been supporting digital social innovation (DSI) - the use of open and collaborative digital technologies to tackle social problems - across Europe since 2013 with funding from the European Commission. Over that time, we’ve mapped out over 1,400 organisations and 2,000 projects in the field; published research and influenced policy to help bring DSI into the mainstream of technology, the public sector and civil society; brought together hundreds of people at events across the continent; and supported people developing DSI projects through peer learning and networking. Last month we published our pioneering DSI Index, ranking how the ecosystems of 60 cities across the EU support DSI to grow, as well as a collection of stories of visions for the future of DSI.
  9. Nesta also invests in technology that’s both doing good and has strong financial promise such as CrowdFunder and Applied. ‘Tech for good’ is not necessarily charitable (not-for- profit) having both a social purpose and ability to make a profit supports sustainability - a critical factor for ideas to endure. We invest in early stage tech businesses where commercial success and impact are aligned, making venture and development capital investments that reflect Nesta’s strategic themes, in particular innovation in the health, education and government sectors.

As we support discussions policymakers are having on ethics and regulation, we also stray into something much more values based and strategic - responsible tech.

If we are going to make the most of it, we need to take the chance to shape the digital world before it shapes us

Martha Lane Fox

Where ‘tech for good’ is a celebration of the challenges we can overcome through technology - start with a social issue and use tech to find the solution - ‘responsible tech’ is the social conscience (or responsibility) of technologists. With over half of the world’s population now using the internet and 7 of the 10 largest firms in the world being tech firms (Mary Meeker’s internet trends 2019), the biggest influence on the well-being of our communities, relationships and individual citizens has shifted beyond recognition. As Martha Lane Fox said "If we are going to make the most of it, we need to take the chance to shape the digital world before it shapes us". We know the public are concerned about the effects of technology on society - it’s in the headlines every day - from privacy to security to job insecurity to values shifts to cyber bullying to identity theft to loneliness. The list goes on. Recent DotEveryone research shows that the people making the technology products and services are also calling for an end to the era of moving fast and breaking things.

We’re hugely proud of the ‘tech for good’ work we do and the footprint we’re leaving behind - Nesta is all about bringing bold ideas to life to change the world for good. We’ve seen our fair share of irresponsible technology stories - such as facial recognition tools to identify sexual orientation or porn star movies, attempted assassinations by drone, 3D printing of guns, and CRISPR babies.

In a world where the future seems more uncertain than ever, we’re seeking to demonstrate that there is good reason to be optimistic and that if we collectively push for values such as openness, inclusivity, transparency and fairness in the tech industry, the promise of the future will outweigh the perils.

Author

Kate Adams

Kate Adams

Kate Adams

Director of Operations & Special Projects

Kate helps shape the Challenge Prize Centre's future as it evolves from being a successful start-up focused on identifying, highlighting and solving critical problems.

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