Tech + Society Conference Puts the End User in the Spotlight

Tech + Society Conference Puts the End User in the Spotlight


UCLA Anderson’s Easton Center highlights human-centered technology innovation

November 28, 2022

  • UCLA Anderson’s Easton Technology Management Center convened its 2022 Tech + Society conference under the theme “New Visions”
  • Panels, keynotes and discussions focused on human-centered technology innovation in areas ranging from health care to public service
  • Easton Center faculty director Terry Kramer underscored the opportunities for tech leadership as society shapes the future of work

The great inventor Thomas Edison once said, “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” Perhaps Edison was thinking about one of his own ideas at the time, understanding that an incandescent light bulb or a phonograph would matter only if the masses were eager to listen to music in their homes or were tired of reading by candlelight. He surely wasn’t anticipating LED illumination or the ability to stream seemingly the whole history of recorded music through a handheld device.

But Edison seems to have understood that innovation leads to disruption, as the nation’s candlemakers probably came to understand. In 2022, tech-based innovation promises disruptive technologies that often lower costs and improve outcomes in critical areas of societal need. But such innovation — along with their associated businesses — are often subject to a rapidly emerging “techlash.” A growing set of concerns ranges from data privacy to the potential biases embedded in algorithmic decision making; from a widening digital and income divide to uncertainty about the future of work as we know it. At the core of these concerns, a discussion around effective leadership emerges.

UCLA Anderson’s Easton Technology Management Center convened its annual Tech + Society conference under the theme “New Visions” to present these very issues in a series of panels, keynotes and discussions.

Among the highlights was a panel titled The Future of Work: New Roles, New Skills and the Role of Technology and Leadership, featuring Amy Regan Morehouse, SVP of global ecosystem enablement at Salesforce; Tim Wan, CFO of Asana; and moderator Paula Judge, vice president of talent at Accel.

Another popular panel was titled The Role of Human-Centered Technology in Public Service, which featured Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America, and moderator Ted Ross, CIO for the City of Los Angeles.

In a conversation between Easton Center faculty director Terry Kramer and Neil Lindsay, senior vice president of Amazon Health Services, which is developing an online pharmacy, telehealth and health diagnostics units, Lindsay outlined early indications of what may be a transformational change in the patient experience of health care. Among his observations:

On human-centric innovation:

“It’s all about the humans and technology and service of serving humans. One of the things I’ve appreciated about the last few years, as difficult as it’s been for everybody, is that we’ve become much more empathetic as society in general. We’ve got to be thinking about the human impact of the work we do.”

On automation in the health care space:

“I think we’ve got to remember that technology is just an enabler of making connections between people easier. It also is really important that technology is about enabling humans to do what they do well. Technology in health care should be about freeing up the physicians, the clinicians, the pharmacists, the experts to spend their time with patients, with humans. I think we’ve just got to keep in mind that that’s the role of technology.”

On leadership:

“The starting point is humility: Know what you don’t know, or know at least that you don’t know a lot. That’s certainly true for me. I know what my role is, and it’s not to be a health care expert. My role is to help people who know a lot more about this industry and help them be successful.

“What I’m loving about this role is that it’s really feeding my intellectual curiosity. There’s so much to learn — and not just about the industry, but also about inventions and innovations that are going on. I might not need to know about them, but they’re fun to know about. It’s energizing learn more about the breakthroughs that are happening in health care. It is a really exciting space. I’m very inspired by the inventions that I hear about, whether in diagnostics or therapeutics or whatever else it might be — areas that we may do nothing in necessarily, but I think that’s part of intellectual curiosity and getting the right people around you.”

Closing the event, Kramer highlighted five key issues from the day’s discussions:

  1. The areas of technology-based innovation that can positively affect society are of great magnitude and present huge opportunities. Whether health care, the role of government or the future of work, these are issues that impact everyone.
  2. Current innovations in technology are very much “human-centric.” There are always concerns about automation, and we may wonder, “Where are all the jobs going?” But every panel at the conference talked about the use of technology with people, and how we create and empower better outcomes for people.
  3. Sound leadership involves understanding the end users of technology, knowing who they are and what they need. That leadership perspective is an imperative in any technological environment.
  4. The first step in handling unintended negative consequences of technology is to acknowledge what might go wrong in advance and to take preventative measures. Potential negative outcomes should not stifle innovation, but effective leaders need to develop products aimed at the common good, with an eye on how the same technology might produce negative outcomes when misused.
  5. Lifelong learning and personal evolution are crucial. Some rising leaders and innovators prefer startups, and others large companies; some are entrepreneurs while others are managers; some people have technical backgrounds, others have a finance background. But the landscape shifts over time, and everyone must pick up new skills and new capabilities or risk becoming stale, as the rate of changing is happening at an alarmingly fast pace.