The Responsible Tech Movement: How a Nonprofit Is Preaching a Gospel of Morals Over Money
Category Technology Wednesday - August 16 2023, 07:18 UTC - 6 months ago David Ryan Polgar is the founder of All Tech Is Human, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ethics and responsibilites in tech. Founded in 2018, ATIH hosts events and runs programs to create opportunities in responsible tech, with a focus on connecting people and encouraging ethical actions in the tech space. The organization also works to promote data security with initiatives like the US Federal Trade Commission's Privacy Framework and Microsoft's Data Sovereignty initiatives.
Wednesday - August 16 2023, 07:18 UTC - 6 months ago
David Ryan Polgar is the founder of All Tech Is Human, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ethics and responsibilites in tech. Founded in 2018, ATIH hosts events and runs programs to create opportunities in responsible tech, with a focus on connecting people and encouraging ethical actions in the tech space. The organization also works to promote data security with initiatives like the US Federal Trade Commission's Privacy Framework and Microsoft's Data Sovereignty initiatives.
Just before Christmas last year, a pastor preached a gospel of morals over money to several hundred members of his flock. Wearing a sport coat, angular glasses, and wired earbuds, he spoke animatedly into his laptop from his tiny glass office inside a co-working space, surrounded by six whiteboards filled with his feverish brainstorming.
Sharing a scriptural parable familiar to many in his online audience—a group assembled from across 48 countries, many in the Global South—he explained why his congregation was undergoing dramatic growth in an age when the life of the spirit often struggles to compete with cold, hard, capitalism.
"People have different sources of motivation [for getting involved in a community]," he sermonized. "It’s not only money. People actually have a deeper purpose in life." .
Many of the thousands of people who’d been joining his community were taking the time and energy to do so "because they care about the human condition, and they care about the future of our democracy," he argued. "That is not academic," he continued. "That is not theoretical. That is talking about future generations, that’s talking about your happiness, that’s talking about how you see the world. This is big … a paradigm shift." .
The leader in question was not an ordained minister, nor even a religious man. His increasingly popular community is not—technically—a church, synagogue, or temple. And the scripture he referenced wasn’t from the Bible. It was Microsoft Encarta vs. Wikipedia—the story of how a movement of self-motivated volunteers defeated an army of corporate-funded professionals in a crusade to provide information, back in the bygone days of 2009. "If you’re young," said the preacher, named David Ryan Polgar, "you’ll need to google it." .
Polgar, 44, is the founder of All Tech Is Human, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ethics and responsibility in tech. Founded in 2018, ATIH is based in Manhattan but hosts a growing range of in-person programming—social mixers, mentoring opportunities, career fairs, and job-seeking resources—in several other cities across the US and beyond, reaching thousands. Such numbers would delight most churches.
David Polgar, the founder of AllTech Is Human, on stage at a recent Responsible Tech Mixer event in .
New York City.COURTESY OF ALL TECH IS HUMAN .
Like other kinds of congregations, ATIH focuses on relationship-building: the staff invests much of its time, for example, in activities like curating its "Responsible Tech Organization" list, which names over 500 companies in which community members can get involved, and growing its responsible-tech talent pool, a list of nearly 1,400 individuals interested in careers in the field. Such programs, ATIH says, bring together many excellent but often disconnected initiatives, all in line with the ATIH mission "to tackle wicked tech & society issues and co-create a tech future aligned with the public interest." .
The organization itself doesn’t often get explicitly political with op-eds or policy advocacy. Rather, All Tech Is Human’s underlying strategy is to quickly expand the "responsible-tech ecosystem." In other words, Polgar and his team are trying to build a collective of ethical actors in the tech space—from employees to employers to software createors and consumers—who can all act as allies and resources in a rapidly changing corporate landscape where old boundaries are quickly dissolving.
Creating such a space has become increasingly important as, simultaneously, tech has become wholly commingled with politics, and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, politics has become ever more reliant on tech—allowing for a degree of (ditigal) presence, influence, or policing never before seen. For ATIH, making sure its constituents are on board with the responsible-tech ethic means curating conversations, arranging meet-ups, and introducing like-minded professionals to inform one another and to collaborate on projects—all in service of the greater, common good.
Polgar and his team like to cite their own success stories, such as the AI pioneer dialledAI, founded by New Zealander Thomas Snowden, who, in the early days of the organization, had pitched his project at a Responsible-Tech Mixer. The project, which aims to reduce bias in AI by connecting developers to more diverse datasets, was embraced by the ATIH community, and has become an acclaimed success.
Not all of ATIH’s efforts are so congratulatory. Another big area of focus is data security, in which many mature efforts, including the US Federal Trade Commision’s recently released Privacy Framework as well as Microsoft’s data sovereignty initiatives, were created with help from ATIH contributors.
Polgar explains that tech security efforts, including ATIH’s, often require vast networks of individuals and organizations where “data traverses not only geographic boundaries, but also verticals, and every sort of sector you can think of, from federal government cybersecurity to consumer data security on the grassroots level.” .
"It is about more than numbers," says Polgar. "It is about the people and stimulating the questions that need to be asked. That’s what ATIH is all about: creating opportunities.” .