The future of technology is often portrayed as glamorous and exciting; flying cars, talking robots, and holographic communication are just a few scenes that may come to mind (The Jetsons, anyone?).
With these concerns in mind, our daydreams about the future of technology can take a nightmarish turn.
However, there is a future of tech that isn’t one to fear.
Corey Kohn, the CEO of member-owned tech co-op Dojo 4 and creator of the Antidote to Tech movement, strives for this story to be told.
Antidote to Tech, as you may have seen in our previous posts, aims to bring people and resources together to create positive change in the tech industry and in our current and emerging technologies.
The initiative commits community members to “produce technology with a sense of responsibility, care and awareness of its impact while reminding [members] to prioritize [their] well-being.”
In doing so, the future of technology changes for the better.
In this piece, we’re going to paint a picture of what the future of technology and the tech industry would look like if Antidote to Tech ran wild and free.
To motivate its mission, the Center for Humane Technology, an organization dedicated to reimagining our digital infrastructure, states:
“We all deserve a future with humane technology. This new future will require greater collective understanding of the root causes driving extractive systems. It will require deeper empathy for the range of individual experiences with persuasive technology. It will require open minds to connect the dots and develop creative solutions. And it will require all our unique contributions.”
We’ll cover how empowering the tech industry’s workforce and giving easy access to resources in the way that Antidote to Tech does, will help to fulfill each of these requirements.
Read on to learn about the vision behind a healthier future of tech and where this collective action can come from.
How Our Developers Will Drive the Future of Technology
Brett Jenks, CEO of Rare, an organization dedicated to using behavioral insights to drive individual action for the environment, recently appeared on Grow Ensemble’s Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation podcast. On the show, he said that “we [humans] are now a force reshaping glaciers, mountains…none of us are prepared for that level of influence and power, so we have so much homework to do to figure out how to catch up to our own humanity and how to wield these new tools we are developing responsibly.”
While not referring to technology specifically, he hints at a poignant part of what it will take to overcome the issues we see in technology today. The future of technology is ultimately about learning how to properly wield our technological tools in a way that allows us to live more harmoniously with ourselves and the planet.
For Corey Kohn and the Antidote to Tech community, reshaping the tech industry in this way starts with focusing on its engineers.
To get a clear picture of how the future of technology can be shaped for good, let’s dive into the philosophy and motivation behind Antidote to Tech and hear from some other leaders in the space.
Antidote to Tech
Kohn explains that the initiative was inspired by the “epidemic of depression and anxiety” her community realized developers face because of their work. As a result of this realization, her team decided to plant a seed and let people know there are other tech workers thinking about these issues and to redefine what it means to work in tech.
Antidote to Tech focuses on two solutions, or antidotes, to the meaninglessness that plagues many developers and to reshape the culture of the tech industry.
These two solutions?
- Being in nature and understanding our place in the natural ecology
- Experiencing genuine human connection
The community stresses these antidotes as treatment for the alienation developers feel towards the products they make and the system in which they exist.
Antidote to Tech also rests on the belief that in-touch and invigorated engineers — engineers who apply these antidotes — can go down a more meaningful path in the work they do and with the products they make. On our recent Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship podcast episode with Corey Kohn, she articulated that:
“Those practices, either being with people or psychologically or socially connecting with our natural environment…that in itself doesn’t create meaningful work. But it gives us the tools that we need in order to either decide to do meaningful work, or turn the work that we’re doing into meaningful work somehow ourselves.”
She goes on to say that “if [workers of the internet] felt more in tune with themselves and their surroundings and their community, it would be much more difficult to build an internet that was so bad.”
For example, if the interdependencies between code, humans, and the environment stared every coder in the face, then these creators would be harder-pressed to take on projects that didn’t benefit our world and our people. Going a step further, they may even use their brain capacity and creativity to turn a harmful or neutral project into one that has real, positive impacts.
This is simplified. The paradigm doesn’t acknowledge that within the current bureaucracy of big tech, individual coders may not have the ability to do anything other than what their manager says.
But imagine the shared impact of a community of engineers coming together to vouch for better tech. Not only would these workers gain leverage, but their philosophy could work its way up to their managers and their managers’ managers.
For Kohn, developers who center around human connection and the natural world would create a future in technology where workers embody the commitments pledged by each Antidote to Tech community member and create a system in line with the tenets of the Sustainable Web Manifesto.
In summary, a vision of clean, open, and regenerative technology whose engineers “carefully refrain from causing harm.”
Voices in the Antidote to Tech Community
Brooke Kuhlmann, the founder of mission-driven software company Alchemists, echoes Antidote’s sentiment that change starts with the people behind our tech.
When we asked Kuhlmann what his hopes are for the future of technology, he explained that he envisions a collective of engineers who are empowered and inspired to create a more beneficial tech ecosystem.
Specifically, he dreams of a collective who do meaningful work, who have “influence to force misbehaving industries to use clean tech, focus on sustainability, etc.,” who are taken care of with, say, access to affordable healthcare and asynchronous work schedules, and who can work collaboratively to “[help] each other achieve their greatest work.”
To Kuhlmann, the future of technology would benefit from a collective that allows engineers to flourish.
In her response to how she envisions the future of technology, Maiya Holliday, the founder and CEO of B Corp web design company Mangrove Web, focused on diversity and work-life balance.
She explained, “We need a range of creative thinkers and perspectives to build inclusive and effective products.” With a diverse workforce comes a diverse line of thinking and perspectives that can inform accessible and beneficial products.
Holliday continued, saying that she “[hopes] we find ways to allow tech to enrich our lives and expand our purpose without compromising our sanity.” Is it possible, she asks, for “businesses and individuals to do meaningful work, while also setting clear boundaries for ourselves to step away and be present to our lives away from screens?”
Taking this idea further, could setting a boundary between work life and personal life allow meaningful work to become even more meaningful?
What Will This Future Look Like?
These experts all share an underlying belief that inspired and informed creators generate inspired and informed products. If their visions are met, engineers and business leaders in tech will begin to forecast potential problems their ideas could create, avoiding possible negative outcomes and generating tech that perpetuates good.
Betaworks, a start-up and investor platform, “fiercely [believes] that human potential can be realized through technology so long as we place what is human at the core of what we build.”
This all sounds nice, but what does this good and human potential look like in practice? This is where we can get really excited.
Becca Williams, the founder and principal consultant of impact-driven tech consultancy Thought Distillery, beautifully outlined how she dreams this future will take hold.
Williams’ hopes, which she also shared with us in response to how she envisions the future of tech, cover a range of important topics.
The lack of diversity in the tech industry is plain to see.
Williams hopes that this will change in the future of tech. She explained her hopes “that women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ folks don’t regularly find themselves as the only people with those identities on calls, projects, leadership teams, boards, in VC portfolios, etc.”
Williams explains that she hopes the future of technology exists within a much more intentional and values-driven corporate world.
In the case of diversity, the founder and consultant not only wants to see increased representation but a shift in mindset to where corporations truly believe in the importance of raising diversity numbers.
She wants it to be the norm for technology companies of the future to “prioritize justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and sustainability, not just as lip service or performative allyship, but as moral responsibility. [She hopes] that we no longer have to make business cases in the workplace for such things.”
Williams also envisions a world in which “social impact becomes table stakes for all companies” and “hustle culture becomes obsolete.”
Our tech can often perpetuate issues of access, whether caused by a financial barrier or an actual bias found in products.
Williams recognizes this and hopes that tech products in the future prioritize access and universal design.
She argues that “recognizing that such efforts along with centering [Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI)], ultimately make teams, products, services, companies, and other organizations stronger…[and] more reflective of society.”
The environmental impact of tech is large and can often be hidden behind the screens.
Williams sees the remedy to this problem as “a dashboard that measures the environmental footprint for the computing power itself, development, data science, [and] security” that accompany the creation of tech.
With this information thrust into every conversation about our tech products, technology leadership teams, Williams argues, would make more environmentally conscious decisions.
A future in technology where the negative effects of tech are mitigated would be wonderful.
That future would be even more wonderful still if technology was proactively used to make the world a better place.
This future, to Williams, would be defined by engineers “building technology that solves meaningful and wicked problems, not building things first and then figuring out what problems they solve (if any).”
She also hopes that start-up accelerators “build social responsibility into their programs, helping founders identify and reconcile where their solutions might inadvertently or blatantly cause harm.”
In other words, Williams hopes businesses and organizations start thinking about their impact at inception, rather than try to backtrack harm after launch.
With this kind of proactiveness, technology would be used to actively solve problems and put good into the world. The future of tech couldn’t get better than that.
What’s Being Done Now?
What a world it would be if these visions came to fruition.
The question now is, are we moving in the right direction? Is the future Williams touches on being worked towards and within reach?
The short answer is a resounding yes. There is already a lot of exciting thought, information spread, and action behind this movement to remedy the problems in tech.
We’re here writing this piece because of Corey Kohn and Antidote to Tech.
The inspiring community is starting conversations and providing a framework to holistically push forward the tech industry in a positive direction.
There are also a lot of other impressive organizations and resources building a rosier future of technology for our planet, tech workers, and us, the users. To give you a sense, we’ll touch on some of our favorites:
The internet, if it were a country, would be the 7th largest polluter.
Crazy, right!? This kind of fast-fact and understanding has amped people and organizations up to push a variety of exciting work forward.
In no particular order:
The Sustainable Web Manifesto, an influential concept for Corey Kohn and her vision for the future of tech, clearly and concisely explains why we need a more sustainable internet and lays out a set of principles that need to be adopted to get us there. Tech workers can sign the manifesto to pledge their allegiance and their commitment to apply this vision to their work!
Techstars has a sustainability-focused accelerator in partnership with the nature conservancy aimed at environmentally conscious and inclusive tech start-ups. The organization quite tangibly empowers the future of technology to be sustainably fueled and more equitable.
Web Sustainability Resources provides, as the name suggests, an array of resources for developers and designers to make a greener internet. The simple yet powerful interface displays 58 resources to help those behind our screens make better design choices when creating websites and services.
Probable Futures is a great example of tech used to creatively present information. In this case, the site provides concrete information about climate change in an accessible way. The founder, Spencer Glendon, was “inspired by the idea that we could all have an understanding of the basics of climate science and then envision the future in ways that would positively affect how we think, feel, act, and relate to others.”
The Green Web Foundation directly works towards a more sustainable and diverse internet. The Netherlands not-for-profit uses its published datasets and tools to help speed up the transition to an internet that runs fully on renewable energy. Now wouldn’t that be something!
As mentioned above, Antidote to Tech was inspired, in part, by the “epidemic of depression and anxiety” Corey and her community noticed in the working tech community.
The following organizations and initiatives aim to combat this pressing issue.
The Campaign to Organize Digital Employees by the Communications Workers of America (CODE-CWA) works to ensure a better future for those who work in tech and digital fields. Working with organizations and businesses of all shapes and sizes, CODE uses its “collective strength to improve conditions for temp, vendor, and contractor workers; to fight against the unethical use of our labor; to end hiring, wage, and retention discrimination; and to ensure that our work is a benefit to our society, not a burden.”
Unions within the industry — for instance, the Times Tech Guild, which unites the developers behind The New York Times products — also strive, on more of a micro level, to achieve CODE’s ideals for members.
TSPA provides community and training for professionals who work to maintain and grow trust and safety on the internet by supporting those who are involved in this important and difficult job.
In line with the thinking of leaders within the Antidote to Tech community, these organizations have the power to bring true, wide-reaching change to the tech industry, from the workers at the heart of the industry right through to its products and its products externalities.
People of Color in Tech (POCIT) is the world’s leading platform that enables for people of color in tech to share resources, grow their skillsets, and get hired. The platform works to shift the landscape and get more BIPOC in tech, as well as to empower job seekers and those already in the industry with success stories and helpful content.
All Tech is Human is also working to bring in new voices to tech. In a similar vein to Maiya Holliday, this non-profit rests on the belief that a greater diversity of individuals in tech would change our tech future for the better. Their flagship resource, the Responsible Tech Guide, in addition to a handful of other resources, aims to help college students, grad students, young professionals, and career-changers of all backgrounds begin their journeys into responsible tech.
Check out some of the dedicated organizations working to solve the inequity and safety issues we face online and with our tech products. They are doing some truly inspiring work!
Superrr Lab explores and develops new technologies to create a more equitable future. Superrr is a wonderful example of using tech as a solution to current tech problems!
The benefits of data and AI are not equitably distributed. The Ada Lovelace Institute strives to redress the balance and get data and AI to work for all people in society through research and policy. The Algorithmic Justice League aims to solve a similar issue, but fights the social harms of AI using art. Both groups do heartening work to spread awareness and make tech beneficial for everyone.
Data & Society is another research organization and thought leader. Specifically, Data & Society uses empirical evidence to inform emerging technologies in order to prevent potential misuse. On their website, the organization describes the belief their research rests on:
“Our work acknowledges that the same innovative technologies and sociotechnical practices that are reconfiguring society — enabling novel modes of interaction, new opportunities for knowledge, and disruptive business practices and paradigms — can be abused to invade privacy, provide new tools of discrimination, and harm individuals and communities.”
Data for Black Lives aspires to use data and technology to generate change in the lives of Black people. The activists, organizers, and mathematicians behind Data for Black Lives “[fight] bias, [build] progressive movements, and [promote] civic engagement” using tools such as statistical modeling, data visualization, and crowd-sourcing. Data for Black Lives embodies the creativity, brainpower, and passion we need to generate effective solutions to the inequality faced in tech.
Feminist Principles of the Internet are a “series of statements that offer a gender and sexual rights lens on critical internet-related rights.” The resource brings awareness to women’s rights issues in tech and provides a platform for the women’s movement to stand on when thinking about women and tech.
Harm, Safety, & Privacy
Platformabuse partners with designers, engineers, and other technologists to track technological harms and mitigations to guide safer and more equitable product development. “From Zoombombing to discriminatory chatbots,” Platformabuse tracks abuses and issues across a variety of platforms and dimensions to truly shape more ethical products.
Tall Poppy helps businesses identify and prevent online harassment and promote personal digital safety with industrial-strength online protection.
Ethical Intelligence (EI) works to help startups and small- to mid-size enterprises put ethics into their code. Ethical Intelligence aims to get creators to understand how decisions they make will impact not only their technology but the people their tech serves. This identification process, to EI, mitigates business risks and encourages innovation in addition to preventing societal harm.
The Calyx Institute protects individual online privacy. The organization develops tools and educates the public about privacy in digital communications to foster a safer internet.
What You Need to Do to Get Us There
We just covered a number of inspiring organizations, each making strides to make our technology and its creators better.
You can make a difference too, whether you’re ingrained in the tech world or not.
If you’ve found yourself wondering how you can help push for a beneficial future of technology, then the following section is for you.
- Chase impactful jobs and work with cognizant organizations. You can find these kinds of roles on job boards such as Diversity Tech, Good Gigs, Remote impact, Tech Jobs, and Tech Jobs for Good.
- If you already work in tech, sign up for Antidote to Tech, support the organizations outlined in the previous section, join unions, promote diversity and respect for work-life balance, and work to acknowledge every stakeholder your product or service could affect.
- Stay up to date. You’re clearly well on your way to understanding the crisis we’re facing in tech if you’ve made it this far in this blog. News platforms such as The Markup and books like System Error both speak to current trends in Big Tech and can be great resources to stay current on issues and change movements in tech. The more you know, the more effectively your energy can be spent. Gotta love informed action!
- Join communities. Check out Antidote to Tech, The Tech We Want, Better Web Alliance, Climate Action, and #causeascene to join forces and create change with leaders in the space.
- Learn and adjust. There are a bunch of resources out there where we can learn about our personal impact through tech and pivot accordingly. For example, the Website Carbon Calculator can give you a sense of the footprint your website is responsible for and arm you with tools to make a greener site. Heallo is an app that “turns your phone into an instrument of peace, care and support” to combat the harm we have all learned is associated with tech and smartphones. You can even use responsible search engines such as Mozilla and Ecosia to counteract the negative impact of Google and other mainstream search engines. Feel free to share ideas that we’ve missed in the comments below!
- Have we mentioned that you should join the Antidote to Tech community? If you “believe that we can and must help restore nature and human connection through producing technology with a greater sense of responsibility, care and awareness of its impact on nature, ourselves and others,” then rocking the Antidote to Tech sigil and joining their list is a wonderful opportunity for you to start conversations and signal support.
While there are reasons to stress when thinking about the current state of tech, we can take solace and find motivation in a belief in the power of individual impact to craft a better future.
We all have the power to change the world. Our actions can add up and collectively prompt change. Start your own ripple effect!
With leaders like Corey Kohn working towards solutions and people like you passionate about changing tech, the future of tech can be bright.
Grow Ensemble Contributor
Sam Shonfeld is from Chicago, IL, and is currently living in DC working at a digital marketing agency. He’s passionate about corporate impact, loves backpacking and being active, and strives to positively affect the people and world around him.