In case you missed it, brands and businesses worldwide have AI fever, and most are testing or already using generative AI (GenAI), with plans to deploy the tech on a wide scale. At just a year old, GenAI has perhaps the most vast potential of any emerging tech before it—which also means it is capable of unprecedented damage in the wrong hands. And those hands needn’t belong to a malicious e-predator—it could just be an untrained person or team who doesn’t understand the risks of irresponsible use. And important new Deloitte research affirms the worst fear—that more than half (56 percent) of the more than 1,700 business and tech professionals across industry sectors surveyed don’t know or are unsure if their companies have ethical standards guiding its use.
The firm’s second annual State of Ethics and Trust in Technology report also affirms business’s breakneck approach—nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of those surveyed say their companies have begun testing GenAI, while 65 percent are already using it inside their businesses, and 31 percent have begun using this technology for external consumption.
The study, led by Deloitte’s Technology Trust Ethics practice, assesses if and how ethical standards are being applied to emerging technology in respondents’ organizations. Emerging technology was defined as cognitive technologies (including AI), digital reality, ambient experiences, autonomous vehicles, quantum computing, distributed ledger technology and robotics, and the survey and report had an added focus on GenAI this year.
“There is an inherent opportunity to apply emerging technologies for societal good while creating financial value for the enterprise,” said Kwasi Mitchell, chief purpose and DEI officer at Deloitte, in a news release. “However, the adoption of Generative AI is outpacing the development of ethical principles around the use of the technology, intensifying the potential risks to society and corporate trust if these standards continue to lag.”
Among the key findings of the study:
Data privacy was reported as the top ethical concern about GenAI
Respondents ranked data privacy (22 percent) as their No. 1 concern about GenAI. Despite this, the percent of respondents who selected data privacy as one of the most important ethical principles for general emerging technologies in their organization fell from 19 percent in last year’s survey to 7 percent this year.
The perception of cognitive technologies’ potential for social good is increasing—and the perception of its potential for harm is rising even faster
In this year’s survey, 39 percent of respondents indicated cognitive technologies—which includes GenAI—have the most potential for good among all emerging technologies, up from 33 percent last year. Cognitive technologies were also ranked as most likely to pose a serious ethical risk among 57 percent of respondents, compared with 41 percent in 2022.
Organizations opt to retain, retrain and upskill in response to automation
Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents said their organizations are shifting some workers’ tasks due to the adoption of new technologies. Among these organizations, 85 percent retain individuals whose roles are affected, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) additionally retrain or upskill those employees for new positions, countering common perceptions that emerging technology will eliminate jobs. When asked to rank top ethical concerns about GenAI’s use more broadly across business, only 7 percent of respondents cited job displacement where GenAI replaces human jobs.
Collaboration with other businesses on ethical tech standards remains unchanged, while expectations of government increase
Despite the increased attention on emerging technologies in the wake of GenAI, only 27 percent of survey respondents reported their companies collaborating with commercial entities (down from 31 percent last year), and only 23 percent report partnering with government organizations to review potential ethics concerns (flat relative to 22 percent last year). The percentage of respondents who believe government should have a bigger role in setting ethical standards rose to 71 percent this year from 61 percent last year.
Respondents said their organizations are supportive of government playing a role in technology regulation, specifically in fostering cross-business collaboration to define standards (69 percent), setting regulations (59 percent), incentivizing adoption of standards (50 percent), and imposing financial penalties (37 percent).
“The potential benefits of emerging technologies can increase when companies collaborate and share their knowledge,” said Beena Ammanath, managing director of Deloitte Consulting LLP and leader of Deloitte’s Technology Trust Ethics practice, and the report’s author, in a news release. “The sooner companies work together to identify the risks and establish governance up front, the better their ability may be to help generate stakeholder value, elevate their brands, create new markets and contribute to building a more equitable world.”
Deloitte’s Technology Trust Ethics practice is part of the U.S. Purpose and DEI Office and focuses on embedding ethical decision-making into the development and use of emerging technology, to build trust in those technologies and expand the equitable opportunities of a tech-savvy world to all people. The practice developed a Technology Trust Ethics framework to help organizations assess the ethical implications of emerging technologies and guide responsible decision-making in the design, operation and governance of those technologies.
Deloitte’s research included interviews in June 2023 with 26 executives and surveyed more than 1,700 business and technical professionals involved in developing, consuming or managing emerging technologies. Respondents represented industry sectors including technology, media and telecommunications; financial services; life sciences and health care; consumer; energy; academia; government and public service; and nonprofit. The survey spanned the impact of GenAI on organizations, the understanding of and value placed on ethical principles for emerging technologies, and mechanisms to implement ethical behavior throughout their organizations.