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Silicon Valley speakers get people thinking at SVC2UK

Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge, 2019
Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge, 2019

Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK) 2019 gathered entrepreneurs and investors from across Oxford, Cambridge and London to welcome some of the US’s most successful tech entrepreneurs to the UK.

This year SVC2UK explored how emerging financial inclusion, healthtech, edtech, cybertech and spacetech are changing the world both now and in the future, keeping a continued focus on how artificial intelligence and machine learning push the boundaries of humanity.

Speakers included include Apple employee #5 Joanna Hoffman, space programme veteran Anita Sengupta, and co-founder of the world’s first personal genetics service 23andMe Linda Avey. Since 2006, the event has connected the best of Silicon Valley to the UK, showcasing the businesses using technology to change the way we live, work and play for the better.

The thought leadership part of the programme took place at Cambridge Union and asked: ‘What right does technology have to influence our personal choices?’

“Any tool created for good can be used for evil,” said Jason Mellad, co-founder and CEO of Start Codon and chair of the SVC2UK 2019 debate – kicking off the discussion, he went on to question what kind of world we have created and indeed want to shape for the next generation of tech users.

Linda Avey of Precise.ly argued that tech has no rights, but people still have the right to choose how tech is developed and regulated. She went on to discuss the empowerment many consumers have experienced in tracking how their data (especially genetic data) affects their future; the real danger she highlighted was in the unknown future of CRISPR technology and the importance of developing the correct frameworks to regulate it as a society.

Jane Swift of Learnlaunch discussed the nuances of technology and children’s rights especially around using educational products at school. She discussed the ‘techlash’ or poor reputation that educational technology has within the US simply because there has never been a thoughtful introduction to it in classrooms, or a chance for parents to understand it properly. Jane also discussed the empty gaps and training needs in education that technology has the potential to fill, but the fact that few people are willing to test this technology out – coupled with the fact that teachers are not taught how to best implement such technologies once they’re tested and approved – means there are even more gaps in the system. Her former role in government allowed her to comment on the positive impact that good relations between the public and private sector can have in helping to implement and regulate tech in the right ways.

David Le of Lyft emphasised the dangers of personifying technology to the point that it removes focus (and onus) on the people behind it; he discussed the fact that the choices made to deliver and deploy technologies must have people at the heart of it. As we develop rules and programmes around managing technologies that are moving faster towards the ability to make decisions (such as machine learning, AI, autonomous vehicles etc.) we will need to actively make sure it is not developed in such a way that it ends up serving the people who are already most privileged.

Raina Kumra of Loris.ai told the audience about her ‘ethical checklist’ that companies can use to ensure their products or services are abiding by good ethical standards right from the start of and throughout the development process – she called this the “infrastructure for ethical product innovation”. She highlighted that it’s usually only good intentions that are behind the technologies now sparking ethical questions but that the culture behind the businesses building those technologies is what needs to change in order for them to be more ethical.

All speakers discussed the importance of technology companies to work together and with the public sector to establish a common set of rules in order to ensure tech development and implementation has ethical considerations from the start, and the importance of bringing personal responsibility for tech companies as well as consumers back into the conversation.

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