With the unprecedented rate of data collection, use of Big Data, and adoption of artificial intelligence, we are at the dawn of what many are calling the fourth industrial revolution. Ensuring we consider the evolution of technology and its intersection with many fields — competition and consumer law, privacy, human rights and ethics — will be central to us collectively understanding policy reform challenges.

Mr Edward Santow, Human Rights Commissioner opened the conference reflecting on rising “dual use technology” and the potential for technology to deliver significant benefits whilst also presenting risks for harm.

A simple analogy of “dual use technology” Mr Santow explained, is a kitchen knife where it’s primary use is benign, but it can definitely be re-purposed for harm. The focus of the day was to identify the challenges, to ensure we are managing emerging risk and to facilitate responsible innovation. “We should pursue innovation that reflects our values” Mr Santow said.

One of the major highlights of the conference was the panel “Inclusion Riders: people with disabilities and technology”, which reminded us of the significant impact technology can have on people’s lives.

Emma Bennison, Executive Officer of Blind Citizens Australia shared her experience of using AI technology such as Aira and be my eyes which she described as providing liberation to do things “on your terms and in your timeframe” as a person with visual impairment.

However, she cautioned that these services should not relied on by businesses and advocates to then cease creating or advocating for inclusive technology for people with disabilities.

Alastair McEwin, Disability Discrimination Commissioner further urged that products need to be tested widely to capture different disability experiences.

This point was echoed by Manisha Amin, CEO of Centre for Inclusive Design, who implored businesses to “think slow to think fast” as remediation to address problems after the fact rather than early testing can cost businesses ten times as much. We couldn’t agree more.

Throughout the day there were case studies of the problems AI presented regarding the over-reliance of historical data, transparency, bias, and discrimination. How we choose to use these technologies and put in place measures to address these problems will be critically important over the coming years.

As the conference came to an end, we were asked to reflect on “What kind of society do we want to be?” where Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, outlined some potential guiding principles as we enter the fourth industrial revolution: Security, Responsibility, Integrity, Inclusivity, & Humanity.

Call for submissions

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released an Issues Paper, conducting a deep exploration on human rights and technology in their major project. They are calling for submissions by October 2.