Customer habits are rapidly changing businesses across all sectors, with ethics and technology at the forefront of the revolution.
IT consultancy BJSS and digital design consultancy SPARCK recently hosted an event entitled ‘The Conscious Consumer’ at the Engine Shed in Bristol, where they held a series of discussions around the topic.
The event focused around the idea that the modern consumer is now influencing ethical changes across all areas of business, and that discussions needed to be had to prepare for this.
BJSS’ CTO Carl Austin was the keynote speaker at the event and he shared his views on how life-altering technological advances are affecting the ethical aspects of retail, manufacturing and society as a whole.
One of his main topics of discussion focused around how new technologies are driving change, but warned those in the audience of their secondary impacts outside of retail.
Austin commented: “There has been an explosion of technological advances in the retail sector in recent years. With the advancements in artificial intelligence come many ethical concerns for the modern retailer and consumer.
“I urge people to be aware of the ripple effect – AI may help the consumer, but it is the job of the technology company to look at the long reaching after effect of their tech. It will affect the job markets, for example.”
Austin also discussed the role of driverless cars and the immediate pros and cons of their applications.
They will reduce congestion and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but will also eliminate an entire job class and change public transport forever.
One of the major arguments for the lack of AI within education has been the absence of personable links to a computer screen. However, this has started to change as artificial learning and addressing questions to a specific child’s likes and dislike makes it more interactive for them. Children are likely to become more engaged with AI that speaks to them directly, rather than a teacher to an entire class.
Austin believed the way forward is a future of tech and ethics being “inclusive rather than exclusive” – proving the need for further events like this.
There are many sectors in which the wide-reaching consequences have yet to be truly discussed and understood. There were three other ‘lightning talks’ that tackled similar topics around the ethical ramifications of technology.
Head of Marketing at Bristol Energy James Robertson highlighted the how technology might shape the future of the energy sector. He felt that events like this are necessary to keep the conversation moving forward.
He said: “Today’s event was a brilliant opportunity to plant the seed around how we need to think responsibly about technological developments. They are designed for good but sometimes have unintended consequences. I hope one of the main topics that people will take away from today was that you have to be conscious about the needs of different types of consumers and businesses when you develop new technology. A human-centred approach is advocated, but there’s also a need for society-led design.
“There is a ripple effect and there will be some ramifications somewhere along the line. You really have to think about the implications to society and that message came across loud and clear today.”
Strategy & Campaigns Manager at Triodos Bank, Simon Martin explained how the topic of the event is one that the bank is already well aware of. Triodos Bank focuses on lending money for positive social and environmental change.
He commented: “We now have a segment of our customers and prospective customers called ‘the conscious consumers’. Their profile is a very interesting and we can see, through our research, that there is a significant number of them – about 14 million in the UK – that want and value green and ethical products and services. It is very important to them.
“Whilst they will not always compromise on cost, availability and service, they still want to be socially responsible. They care about the environment, they care about society, they support charities – they also want to make the right choice with their finances and feel positive about who they bank with. These are the conscious consumers”