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Responsible Innovation Labs Aims to Help Companies Use Tech For Good

Abigail Lynn

Fear of technology running amok is not exactly a new concept, as anyone who has read Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” can attest. The difference now is that the type of world-altering technology Huxley could only imagine 90 years ago is an everyday part of life in 2022.

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It doesn’t take much imagination to see a world where irresponsible use of technology leads to a multitude of problems, which is why so many organizations are devoted to ensuring that doesn’t happen.

One of those organizations is San Francisco-based Responsible Innovation Labs, a new non-profit consortium that aims to reconfigure how technology companies can attain growth while also embedding processes that consider environmental and social impacts from the very beginning.

Responsible Innovation Labs (RIL) launched in early December with an advisory board made up of prominent members of the tech, retail, financial and academic worlds. It seeks to create standards of innovation that will both serve societal needs as well as build companies that develop technology as a force for good. One way it plans to do that is by fostering collaboration between industry leaders, investors, executives, policymakers, academics, and other stakeholders.

RIL was co-founded by Hemant Taneja, managing partner at General Catalyst; Jon Zieger, former General Counsel at Stripe; and Diede van Lamoen, Stripe’s former Head of International. RIL will partner with leaders across various industries and disciplines to develop new standards, tools and methods for ethically deploying technology and building enduring and transparent companies.

“Technology has been a powerful lifeline during a time of intense uncertainty and isolation, but also has exposed the unintended consequences of innovation left unchecked — inequity of access, the marginalization of entire groups, and misinformation,” Taneja, RIL’s Chairman, said in a press release. “As leaders who believe both in the promise of technology and the power of the private markets, we have a responsibility and opportunity to transform the innovation economy for the lasting benefit of the world.”

Photo Courtesy Ed Harvey

In a statement on its website, RIL noted that the world is “developing increasingly powerful technologies and making them available to huge numbers of people. These technologies can do enormous good. They can also do enormous harm.”

As an example, RIL points to the potential for mass job losses due to artificial intelligence, combined with affordable gene therapies that let people live decades longer. This combination could lead to millions of people living longer with many fewer jobs, which RIL calls “a recipe for mass instability.” Its goal is to help entrepreneurs, investors, and industry leaders account for the intended and unintended consequences of new technologies.

“We think about this as turning good intentions into practical action and rigorous standards,” Zieger told Fast Company in a recent interview.

RIL will have some pretty heavy hitters behind it to help accomplish those goals. Its advisory board includes Toyin Ajayi, co-founder and president of Cityblock; Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker; Jim Breyer, founder and CEO of Breyer Capital; Rachel Carlson, co-founder and CEO of Guild Education; Ken Chenault, chairman and managing director at General Catalyst; Ken Frazier, former CEO at Merck; Jon Iwata, executive fellow at the Yale School of Management; Maurice Jones, CEO of OneTen; Youngme Moon, a professor of business at Harvard Business School; Sam Palmisano, former chairman and CEO of IBM; Josh Reeves, co-founder and CEO of Gusto; and Glen Tullman, CEO of Transparent.

The board will collaborate on the organization’s charter and use these five guiding principles as a foundation:

Economic opportunity and inclusion. This mainly involves considering how innovation will impact individuals and communities, with the goal of ensuring equity, broader access and more evenly distributed prosperity.

  • Environment and sustainability: The goal here is to develop operations and products that are sustainable from the beginning to the end of the process.
  • Workforce transformation: RIL seeks to influence work cultures and policies that ensure workers can operate in a diverse and discrimination-free environment, and that all employees benefit from a business’ success.
  • Privacy, safety, and community: The goal here is to foster respect for individual users’ rights, including the privacy and secure maintenance of personal data and the avoidance of misinformation that might undermine democracy.
  • Intentionality & impact: RIL wants to ensure that innovation generates returns beyond mere profits, and includes the right constraints, transparency, and framework to lead to  both growth and good.
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