Why technology must be compassionate
1st June 2018
Our founder Lina was recently on Victoria Derbyshire talking about the role of compassionate tech – see the clip above. In this blog we argue that tech must be compassionate for the future wellbeing of our society.
What is compassionate tech?
Compassionate tech is the use of technology to solve social problems and provide support to those who need it. This can range from using tech to combat the social isolation of older people, to bringing down waiting times for mental health therapy or to provide new employment opportunities for the homeless.
And, excitingly, in the UK, the compassionate tech sector is booming. New figures show that the tech sector grew 2.6 times faster than the UK economy as a whole last year – and compassionate tech was one of the biggest growth areas.
In fact, the UK has more investments in compassionate technology companies than the rest of Europe put together. And the ecosystem is developing rapidly, with new initiatives such as Zinc VC (where Adia was born) bringing together co-founders to build new tech companies to solve social problems. A core part of Zinc’s approach is to apply insights from social sciences in new ways using technology, and to facilitate collaboration between the academic, public and private sectors.
Why is it important?
No-one can deny the advance of technology is only set to increase. Over the last few years there have been significant advancements in power of big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Our homes, devices and cities are increasingly ‘smart’ – collecting data about our habits and behaviours, and adjusting our environment automatically.
As tech therefore becomes more ingrained into the fabric of society, we must harness its power for good not just for convenience. A ‘smart’ home could be used to conserve our use of energy or automatically reorder household goods when they run out, but it could also be used to raise the alarm if an older person who lives on their own falls and injures themselves.
The benefit of tech solutions is that they are both scalable and sustainable. They can be maintained at little cost, and now with AI can become smarter and smarter over time. At a time when public services are stretched and under-funded, tech can provide much needed support. Of course technology can’t solve all problems, and for those who need face to face support, it must remain available.
There are many potential harms and tricky ethical questions related to the increasing use of technology. To give one example, researchers at the University of Virginia trained an AI on a widely used photo dataset. They discovered that the AI amplified predictable gender biases found in the photos—going so far as to categorise a man standing next to a stove as a woman. We must undoubtedly build robust systems and controls to deal with these issues, as well as co-designing new technology with a diverse range of people (of different genders, ethnicities, ages, backgrounds).
Our approach at Adia
At Adia, we believe in the power of tech to provide women-centred healthcare at the touch of a button. Women’s healthcare – and in particular reproductive health – is an area that has suffered greatly from a lack of research and innovation and is disconnected from women’s needs.
We are redesigning women’s reproductive health care, making it easy to access specialist advice at the touch of a button. We are not using technology to replace human to human interaction, rather to improve ease of access to specialist support.
We treat physical and mental health equally, and at the same time. All the women we have spoken to acknowledge feeling stressed, anxious or down in relation to challenges with their reproductive health. Services at the moment, fail to address these psychological needs.
Compassionate tech is therefore an exciting opportunity to design services that tackle long-standing problems in new ways and focus on the needs of the people using them. At Adia, we are excited to be at the start of our journey designing women-centred reproductive health, for women by women.