We are closing out our class on Ethics in Design by talking about emergent technologies. We read and discussed topics like filter bubbles which insulate our perspectives, biases being built into algorithms and their consequences, the battle between encryption and public safety, and the scary reality of facial recognition technology.
This thread of facial recognition is where I focused my narrative, but the overall theme spreads to all emergent technologies. They have a wildly massive power to change our society. As seen in China, this power is being harnessed for unethical reasons. Stories like this bring to light the very real threat that we are confronted with and need to be aware of. The flipside of this threat, is the potential they have to be used for good. If we imagine machine learning being applied to sift through medical records and find patterns of disease or cancer, the quality of our healthcare could be directly increased. The trouble I see in front of us is a lack of trust for those wielding the technological power.
Trust has been emerging as the backbone of my ethical framework. I think trust directly relates to being ethical, because it is based on the good intention of helping the greater society.
Take these examples. We will hear two pitches about a new hypothetical service that utilizes facial recognition.
We love to see your face at Starbucks – so much so that your pretty mug can get you a pretty mug of coffee, for free! Just sign up for Expresso Line, our new facial recognition software that will automatically order your favorite drink as soon as you walk through the door. No lines, no hassle. Sign up today with your smartphone and upload a picture of your pretty mug. Every 4th time you come in, the coffee is on us. Restrictions and exclusion apply.
(yes I wrote Expresso on purpose)
We are Beautiful Beans, a startup cafe that wants to grow our business with you in mind. Our goal is to use facial recognition to make your morning routine just a little less hectic. Our new facial recognition software will automatically order your favorite drink as soon as you step into the scanning zone. No lines, no hassle, just set your drink preference on our app interface. If you don’t want to be scanned, just order at the kiosk.
The images we take will be secured in our database and will not be shared with anyone else. If we go under, the data will disappear too, that’s our promise. We have also teamed up with BlueHealth to give you the option to have your skin data sent to their lab for review and we can alert you of early warning signs of cancerous cells. No charge, we just care about your health.
When reading these scenarios, we realize they are both using the same technology to do generally the same thing, but the feeling of trust is different between the two.
In this scenario, is there a point where trust will be built?
I can envision a consistency that a large corporation like Starbucks may have to help build trust, and deliver on the promise of every 4th visit someone gets their free drink. There is value to be had when you follow through.
So where does the trust break?
In scenario 1, it may start with the name Starbucks. Capitalism has proven that greed and the bottom line tend to rule all, so we may have a bigger hurdle to climb from the get go. They need to regain our trust. There is also the absent information about how and with whom my data will be used. The use of this system justifies their right to scan everyone who walks through the door, whether they are participating or not, as well as power dynamic of who gets the most value out of this transaction?
Contrast this to scenario 2 with Beautiful Beans. Where is the trust being built?
On the surface, it appears that they have a genuinely good intention of helping people remove hassle from their morning, and even offer the option of giving free health exams. It’s not blatant, but one could assume they receive value from the medical company who is looking for data to help deter skin cancer. The customer receives value in return by being warned of any health dangers. Trust is further built by being clear about how your data will be used, and by giving people the option to opt out of being scanned. The user chooses if the value of no lines and medical screening is worth them volunteering their data.
So where does the trust break here?
First of all, who is Beautiful Beans? I’ve never heard of them, so why should I believe anything they say? When you have an initial introduction to someone, there is usually a lack of credibility. In this case however, they have yet to break our trust, they also have not yet earned it.
So what are the steps we as designers need to take to earn the trust of users? It helps to look at this through the lens of meeting a new friend.
First we need to have genuine, good intentions. We make an acquaintance, and can usually begin to see if the person has good intentions. Once we realize this person is decent, we start to give them our trust, but only a little. It takes time, and they have follow through with any promises they may have made. I’ll pick you up at 4pm – boom there they are. I’ll help you move apartments – well what do you know here he is. Finally, they need to do this repeatedly. Consistency on delivering a promise is what builds trust, so time and repetition are key to building trust.
Building trust in the use of emergent technologies is no different. Although at this point, most people would lean towards having to regain trust rather than build from scratch. That’s where a designers ethical framework comes in. These are my key points to building – or regaining trust:
Reliability – consistent positive experiences
Protection – minimizing the users exposure to risk
Inclusiveness – knowing your intention is to help the greater whole, not select groups
Transparency – being honest about how you interact with the user
Accountability – taking responsibility for your actions now, and in the future
These can be applied to our daily duties as designers. Building trust with customers is valuable and we should leverage that with our employers, or employees. Showcase your ethical framework. Show your boss you have integrity, and that integrity adds value to the company. Focus on customers. Speak up when you see untrustworthy actions that may compromise your users trust. Public interest over personal interest will have more longevity. Stay accountable. Building trust from the ground up is hard, but regaining it is even harder. Make plans beyond on-boarding to support your user and maintain their trust.
Emergent technology needs to be used responsibly, and done in a manner that people begin to trust in it. To me, this is the biggest hurdle we need to clear to be able to harness the positive power we can all receive from emergent technology.