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The Corporate Responsibility of Automation: Balancing Efficiency and Ethics

Mar 18, 2024
The Corporate Responsibility of Automation: Balancing Efficiency and Ethics

How can we ensure that the latest advancements in technology and the uses of AI are sustainable and not harmful to the earth? What measures are being put in place to ensure that businesses can grow without sacrificing their values and ethics? 

The ethical considerations and corporate responsibility across various industries are huge, and businesses are continuously in pursuit of efficiency whilst also looking at environmental and societal concerns.

The ‘problem’ with automation

Automation falls under the bracket of AI and has caused a lot of problems for organisations over the past decade. Roles being replaced by robots and AI tools revolutionising customer service are just some of the criticisms of automation - but is it all bad? 

The truth is that automation is incredibly beneficial for all of us. Whether we are anti-AI or anti-automation, we can’t deny that we are all impacted at a grassroots level by either one, and it’s making our lives a lot easier by default.

Let’s look at some examples:

Online banking chatbots

Whether it’s reporting a scam or simply wanting to set up a call to talk about a new savings account. Online banking chatbots are a way to accelerate customer service and ensure that customers are connected with the right departments, quickly.

Predictive e-mailing

AI tools and predictive functions within Google Mail and Outlook can improve the speed at which you write an e-mail as well as give you insight into things you could say if you’re feeling uninspired.

Facial recognition

Forgotten your passcode? Want to pay for something but want an extra layer of security? Your facial recognition on your phone simply wouldn’t be possible without AI. 

There are hundreds more examples of how AI and Automation directly impact us in our day-to-day lives, which leads us back to our original question: is it all bad?

What measures are being put in place for organisations?

It’s important to recognise that the onus is more on larger corporations than your next-door neighbour using their Alexa to play their favourite songs. AI and Automation for people on a day-to-day basis aren’t as insidious as we think (unless you take Black Mirror to heart). 

The responsibility of businesses is to ensure that their operations are ethical whilst building AI and Automation into their infrastructure. For example, does the tech require cooling systems? Are there carbon offsetting options? Are businesses sacrificing human quality for solutions that aren’t earth-friendly?

Embracing socially responsible policies goes a long way toward attracting and retaining customers, which is essential to a company’s long-term success. Furthermore, many individuals who know that part of a company's profits will be channeled toward social causes near and dear to them will gladly pay a premium for goods.” - Investopedia

Organisations must look at the tools that they’re using and ensure that they are putting ESG at the forefront. But, it can slowly become a smoke and mirrors act if there isn’t the correct guidance on how to be socially responsible:

“The challenge for many corporate leaders is that they aren’t sure how to do that. They lack understanding of exactly where they should be focusing their attention and how they should be communicating their ESG efforts. Many executives incorrectly believe that simple actions will suffice: improving ESG disclosures, releasing a sustainability report, or holding a sustainability-focused investor relations event. Some companies take those actions, fail to see a benefit, and grow disappointed or frustrated. In some cases they face criticism and negative reactions from investors.” - HBR

The crux of the issue is sustainability and AI could go hand in hand with technologies enabling businesses to reach sustainability goals, thus operating more ethically. The deeper issue is that businesses are often using AI to do the complete opposite - and instead manipulating statistics and not providing transparency and authenticity. 

Unfortunately, there’s not a silver bullet answer for what the solution is, as it’s a lot more complex than just “being more authentic” or “being more sustainable”. Businesses have to actively go against what the easy option is and instead, use the AI and automation tools they have for good.

How does this transcend across industries?

If we look at Life Sciences as an example, AI and Automation have revolutionised the world of Pharma, Biotech, and Medical Devices. However, there are huge criticisms surrounding the veracity of data and whether AI is a better option for patient data collection and processing due to biases. 

The same questions are raised within Financial Services: can we actually trust that the AI and Automation products are used ethically, or are automated services missing things that wouldn’t be overlooked by the human eye? 

What is the solution?

Long-term, regulation and auditing of organisations that are heavily reliant on AI and Automation seems to be the most logical answer. There are already regulations in place such as risk management and looking deeply into AI algorithms, and this is set to continuously evolve as AI and automation embed themselves deeper into organisations globally. 

From a sustainability perspective, there are positives and negatives. In some ways, AI and automation have allowed for organisations to embrace sustainability and use it for good, whereas for others the ethics are still unclear. We are interested to see how this will evolve in the coming years, and whether sustainability will have the same level of regulation long-term.

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