- Responsible tech seeks to simply do no harm. Responsible digital economy companies examine their systems, processes, products and services to identify and mitigate negative consequences. This applies to both the upstream development and downstream impact of products and services. Digital technologies can be inherently values-driven, so upstream considerations include developing systems with inclusion, security and data protection baked into the design, while maintaining a transparent posture to build trust. For example, developers can intentionally ensure that datasets used to train algorithms are not biased. Conscious decisions can be made to determine if systems should be designed for frictionless data sharing or systematic data protection. Downstream considerations include the social and environmental impact of the production, use and disposal of technology, maintaining consumer choice, protecting livelihoods, and ensuring health and mental wellbeing of users. With digital technologies evolving so rapidly, operating responsibly is a moving goalpost. As regulators turn their attention to sectors and activities within the digital economy, the business case for mitigating the negative consequences of operations can be as straightforward as maintaining a licence to operate. In our poll, only 14% of respondents thought that responsibility alone constituted “Tech for Good”, suggesting that sustainability is necessary but not sufficient.
- Supportive tech not only mitigates its own negative consequences, but enables positive outcomes through new ways of preventing harms and risks. To give three examples: automated safety systems in vehicles or manufacturing can reduce accidents or loss of life. Sensors and satellites, together with data collection, processing and modelling, have greatly enhanced weather monitoring and forecasting to improve response to severe weather events. Cybersecurity applications use predictive AI models to identify vulnerabilities and pre-empt cyber-attacks.
- Facilitative tech, on the other hand, optimises benefits by increasing efficiency. The benefits are realised through streamlined processes, time saved, improved convenience, increased access, reduced waste or lower cost. For example, online to offline platforms, which match supply and demand for services, enable new livelihood and income opportunities while enabling convenience for consumers. Other examples of facilitative tech include the use of data analytics to support decision making, automation for repetitive tasks to reduce manual labour and minimise errors, and communication technology to enable collaboration across geographies.
- Transformative tech not only realises net positive social or environmental impact at scale, but tackles global, national or local challenges in whole new ways. Transformative products, services and business models radically transform lives and livelihoods, while solving the world’s most complex problems. As a result, transformative tech tends to be disruptive, creating new industry sectors or reinventing existing ones. The fintech sector is one such example. Access to financing has long been difficult for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). While simple physical inaccessibility to banks is one factor, gaps in formal documentation and the lack of collateral also make it challenging for many MSMEs to access credit from traditional sources. Today, digital financial services providers such as Grab Financial Group, SEA Money and Goto Financial can use alternative sources of data such as transaction data to develop credit risk models for those with no collateral. The Tech for Good Institute found that over 70% of digital lending users had previously been unable to secure financing from banks and other lenders. By reaching and serving customers digitally, these providers can also offer micro-financing products and reduce the cost to serve its customers, enabling further affordability of their products and services. Another example of transformative tech would be the use of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors as an alternative to field-based estimates for mapping and monitoring forests for carbon stock monitoring. Such verifiable data facilitates trust in new carbon markets, supporting the global effort to reduce carbon dioxide.
Dr Ming Tan
Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.
Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management.
Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 14 countries worldwide. Her portfolio covered sustainability, brand and data privacy. She was concurrently the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, the private philanthropy of the owner of the COMO Group.
As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to SuperNature Pte Ltd, COMO Hotels and Resorts (Asia) Pte Ltd, COMO Club Pte Ltd, and Mogems Pte Ltd. In the not-for-profit space, Ming is an Advisor to Singapore Totalisator Board and serves on the boards of Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre, St. Joseph’s Institution International and COMO Foundation.
As part of her commitment to holistic education and the arts, she also sits on the Advisory Panel of the Centre for the Arts of the National University of Singapore.
Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.