Chris is an award-winning repeat-entrepreneur, engineer, and an author. He coined and popularized the term "UCOT" (unintended consequences of technology) in the tech sector, then became the founder of the world's first center for the unintended consequences of technologies. Before that, he founded Hourglass Ventures - a fund that supports visionary entrepreneurs from the African continent who come from underprivileged backgrounds.
He also founded Health Access Corps, a non-profit that works to establish sustainable healthcare systems on the African continent. Chris has been invited to speak at some of the world’s most prestigious platforms such as TED, Clinton Global Initiative, and the United Nations. He has been featured in many local and international media publications such as BBC, Forbes, and NPR and holds a Bachelor’s of Science, and Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.
His book, The Unintended Consequences of Technology, immediately became one of my top favorites because it touched on topics that keep me up at night: data ethics, surveillance technology, genome editing, and data privacy, to name a few. We share the same sentiment: "Technology is not good or bad; it's just a tool. It's who we are as a people that make it good or bad. And sometimes the bad brings lots of concerns," he writes before he dives into different technologies. After finishing the book, he was kind enough to indulge me by answering some of my questions:
Balancing Innovation and Ethical Considerations
As AI and automation become more prevalent, ethical considerations become paramount. What role do you see for policymakers in shaping ethical standards and regulations for AI and automation?
Policymakers are crucial in setting ethical standards and regulations for AI and automation, ensuring these technologies are developed and used responsibly, with a focus on public safety, privacy, and fairness. The tough part in all this, AI development is so fast, so exponential that policy is always playing catch up. Policymakers must pick up their speed. They must collaborate with experts and stakeholders to create frameworks that guide ethical AI development and application, addressing challenges and potential risks.
Impact on Employment and Workforce
You write, “As more and more workers in the middle class find themselves out of work, more new jobs will be created in the low-paying and high-paying labor markets. This focus even more disparity into the division of wealth between classes.”
As technology advances, job displacement is a huge concern for many of us. How can we proactively address the potential negative impacts on employment and support the workforce in adapting to technological changes?
To mitigate job displacement due to technology, we need a multifaceted strategy: investing in education and retraining programs to equip the workforce with skills for emerging roles, fostering a culture of lifelong learning, and implementing policies that support job transition and creation in new tech-driven sectors. Collaboration between governments, industries, and educational institutions is key to ensuring the workforce stays resilient and adaptable. However, in all honesty, it's likely that this whole "job replacement " phenomenon might be overblown out of proportion. Take AI as a tool for an example: AI will not replace people; but people good at AI will replace those who are not. Do we blame AI in this case or the adaptability/education system? It is a question to ponder.
Accessibility and Inclusivity
Surveillance technology is one of my biggest concerns and in your book, you state that in many cases, it’s a matter of life and death.
While technology can bring about positive changes, there is a risk of creating new inequalities. How do you ensure that the benefits of technological advancements protect everyone, regardless of socio-economic status or geographical location?
Ensuring technology benefits everyone involves deliberate policies and initiatives aimed at inclusivity: development that invites diverse input of ideas, affordable access to technology and internet, education programs tailored to diverse needs, and investment in tech infrastructure across all regions. Public-private partnerships can be instrumental in bridging gaps, making sure advancements are not just for the privileged few but empower communities globally, reducing the digital divide.
Healthcare Technology and Patient Privacy
“Playing “god” can create a life. That same power can destroy all living things. It would be great if all humans were well-meaning and used this powerful technology all for good and only for good. However, we should not underestimate human stupidity and human evil. We need better safeguards.”
One of the most interesting technologies I’ve learned about is genome editing, and since your book, there have been many more advancements in this technology, do you have further insights on the unintended consequences of this technology and/or strategies on how to mitigate them?
Genome editing therapeutics based on mRNA delivery saved the world from a global pandemic…as one major use case. Gene editing like CRISPR-Cas9, presents groundbreaking possibilities alongside ethical conundrums. Unintended consequences range from off-target genetic changes to broader ecological and evolutionary impacts. Mitigation strategies may include rigorous pre-clinical testing, transparent public discourse on ethical implications, and establishing international regulatory frameworks to ensure responsible research and application, maintaining a balance between innovation and ethical considerations.
Educating and Empowering Users
Are there specific initiatives or strategies you've found effective in raising awareness about digital ethics among both professionals and the general public?
Ethics are such a moving target making it really hard to have one statement that encapsulates the world to answer this question. What's considered ethical varies from country to country...heck even from community to the next.. However, if we are to generalize in some way, effective strategies for raising digital ethics awareness include educational programs that integrate digital ethics into curricula, public awareness campaigns that highlight ethical dilemmas in technology use, and professional development workshops for tech industry workers. Additionally, engaging interactive platforms, such as online forums and social media, can also play a pivotal role in fostering dialogue and understanding among diverse audiences.
Balancing Profit and Purpose
Many social entrepreneurs face the challenge of balancing financial sustainability with their mission-driven work. How do you approach this balance, and what strategies have you found effective?
Balancing financial sustainability with mission-driven goals involves a strategic blend of revenue-generating activities that align with core values. Securing diverse funding sources like grants and impact investments, and continuously measuring and communicating the social impact to stakeholders is one way of minimizing mission drift. Effective strategies often include partnerships with like-minded organizations and adopting a lean, adaptive operational model to maximize resource efficiency while staying true to the mission and putting people and planet above profit.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
For individuals aspiring to make a positive impact through entrepreneurship and venture capital, what advice would you give them, based on your own experiences and lessons learned?
My advice would be no advice, enter the battlefield and learn by doing. Because no advice you hear or read can truly prepare you for what it's like to be an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist. But if I am to take a shot at the question, I would say, deeply understand the problems you aim to solve and the communities you intend to serve. Prioritize building sustainable, scalable solutions that address real needs. Embrace failure as a learning opportunity and remain adaptable. Cultivate a strong network of mentors and peers for support and collaboration. Stay committed to your values and the impact you want to create, leveraging your ventures as vehicles for meaningful change. And always remember, you are the engine. Nothing really matters unless you are well oiled and functioning right. Take care of your mental, physical and spiritual health along the way. Have fun and happy building.
Get a copy of his book here
To contact him, you can go on his website