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Our Role as Responsible Technologists with Joe Toscano.

Pop your Bubble.

❝[My role was to] Walk in the room and to fight for and represent the end-user of a product to fight for their rights to a better experience❞ ~ Joe Toscano


Of Ads

❝Represented... Google's revenue source in 2019.❞ ~


Of Adults

❝Said they are “very concerned” about how Facebook and Google use their personal information.❞ ~

Pick a Lane.

❝Silicon Valley was set up in such a nasty way to protect the business over the employee, to protect secrets, that were great for business but ruthless❞ ~ Joe Toscano

Our Role as Responsible Technologists with Joe Toscano.


In this Ethics4NextGen Summit talk our guest speaker Joe Toscano begins by giving us an overview of his career highlights and milestones thus far, from working as a lead product manager at Google, building great tools and products to his national and international speaking engagements with e.g. TED Talks, and the founding of Beacon, which stands for “Better Ethics and Consumer Outcomes Network.” BEACON is an AI and Data Ethics non-profit, which aims to provide policymakers with the insights to help them define AI and Data Ethics frameworks.  Joe explores his motivations for leaving his six-figure package at Google to take his experience and motivation to build better and more ethical AI tools to the road, quite literally in his Honda Civic! A star of the critically acclaimed Netflix Film “Social Dilemma”,  in this inspiring Summit talk, Joe makes a compelling and convincing case that it is our Role as Responsible Technologists to build the next generation of ethical AI.



00:01  To our next guest speaker,  I have the pleasure and honor of introducing you to Joe Toscano the founder and CEO of the beacon which stands for the better ethics and consumer outcomes network a social innovation organization that operates at the intersection of human-centered design social impact and public policy 

00:32   he is also the author of the bestseller book Automating Humanity a ted talker international keynote speaker leading expert of the steering committee at the world economic forum and yes of course his final now I wouldn’t say final but the most recent achievement is that he was one of the silicon valleys tech ethics activists featured on the just-released Netflix movie the Social Dilemma 

00:58   I hear it’s a blockbuster I think you should see it I’m just waiting for this conference to be over so I can go and see that I hope you are as just as excited as I am to hear joe’s amazing journey from a technologist at google to a data ethics activist and it’s an incredible story and I would like you to hear it in his own words in you so I will just give the stage back to joe enjoy the stages all yours 

01:30  also while we’re getting that going thank you for the intro um I am blushing right now so I was very nice very very kind of you appreciate that a lot um very excited about the social dilemma as well yeah and um even more excited to be here so as we get this going basically what I want to just tell I want to speed it up a little bit um what I’m going to go over right now is is my journey because almost everyone asks me how did you get into the position you’re in what did it take how are you funded how is all this working what’s your you know perspective on the industry 

02:09  and so that’s what I’ve put together for you right now and I hope we can cover it in 15 or 20 minutes um and give you a little bit of inspiration into the industry a little bit so there we go cool and do I just press the up-down arrow or what’s go how do I think they will do it for you one-second hold on okay cool you just request next joe just say next or tell me okay all right um right now well we’ll start with uh where did I really start which is in Nebraska so let’s go the first the next slide right there um 

02:53 and I’ll start with this is my family at graduation I’ll start here um this was back in a time when we all congregated together and hugged and uh socialized outside um so I graduated if you a lot of people ask me like what did I graduate with I don’t have a computer science background I’ve taken some computer science courses I as a kid I definitely did I was pushed into that I graduated high school at the 35 on the math section of my act was pushed into computer science decided I’m going to do the humanities instead and actually um didn’t really fully know what I want to go to so if you go to the next slide um I ended up graduating with a lot of different two degrees psychology and journalism   

03:41   uh did a lot of data science in the psych world won some awards in psychology one of the top psych students I wanted top psych researchers also had certificates from the national county sports medicine and was kind of all over the map loved a lot of different things picked things up quickly and really what I saw as I was going through and why I have a bachelor’s in journalism 

04:03 is because actually at the University of Nebraska when I was going to school there uh what now going on 10 years ago there wasn’t much of a computer science program and so I was getting into psychology I was doing all this data science and i and I really wanted to you know my parents were entrepreneurs I really wanted to build products and improve the world uh through psychology and uh the best way I saw at the time was to do it through uh computers through the internet and so the bachelor’s of journalism actually was because that was one of the only colleges that actually taught web design at the time and so I have a specific focus in the creative side of journalism and visual expression and um I guess visual literacy is what they called it but that’s learning how to code learning how to design learning how to do video photo a bunch of different things and I combined that with my psych degree and then learned how to code more so on my side, even more, I ended up creating 

05:02 a front end of the social media platform for one of my classes that was really just to build our portfolio site um moving on from there though if we go to the next slide so I graduated with all these different knowledge points and my parents had no idea what I was doing everyone thought I was crazy um literally everyone in the state you know at the time in Nebraska 10 years ago no one ever heard of most of the stuff I was working on so 

05:30 it’s like I was talking to aliens and I decided I need to move out to colorado because that was going to be the nearest state that was going give me opportunity I moved out there I worked for this company here as you can see called quick left quick left was a very engineering heavy company there were 35 engineers and I was one of two product designers so at the time I was spending my days probably 60 in design 40 in code learning from a bunch of really world-class engineers we did really great work but that company ended up uh getting acquired and right as they were getting acquired I knew something was happening but I wasn’t certain what and so I decided I don’t really want to stick around and figure out you know I don’t want to be on the short end of the stick 

06:13  so maybe I should start looking for another job and where that led me was the next site I ended up as a consultant for google out in mountain view out there I was a designer by trade again I had spent about four or five years at that point doing code freelance gigs creative work on the side things like that so I was a I’ve always been like one of those weird designers that know how to code as well 

06:38 I’ve always blended the middle and actually made my career of translating the two art forms um and uh as I was working out at google the thing that got me was uh was the data usage and some of the ethics behind the impact of their programs in the psychology world we have the prison experiment back at Stanford, Stanford prison experiment 

07:03 um I believe some of the stuff that’s going on with social media right now this experimentation on society is not so different uh than what was done in the prison experiment it is a in my opinion in a human rights abuse and so as I was seeing that and seeing the way data is used the way that uh programs are launched across the world into uh developing nations, that may not be launched here simply to test them several other you know the way user testing was done multiple factors and not just at Google but this was an industry-standard thing I just said I can’t do this anymore I can’t continue to do this you know I learned a lot I absolutely i learned a ton about you know scaling globally about creating high-quality products the details required the business practices everything but I just morally couldn’t continue 

07:58 so keep going uh next slide please uh despite the fact that I had uh moved on it won many many awards uh like I think my team won nine of them while I was there in that year um as a consultant so this is my company rga I was consulting for google embedded in google uh on a daily basis um I then won another award, slide 49 please um from the University of Nebraska back home and this was this award night was the night that I remember and I looked back and it turned my life um I won this award at early achiever award uh fourth youngest ever went in at the university of nebraska 

08:40 and I was full of a room of very appreciative people proud alumni proud people at the university now and they pulled several people up around me that had won other awards and in this line of experts they went down and asked us you know what do you love about your job and at the time this was literally it was I was about a month away from leaving the company    

09:07 at the time so it was hard for me because I was sitting there in a prestigious award ceremony where I knew in my mind they wanted to say oh it’s just the best job in the world you know the standard political response um but I got the mic put in front of my face and I’ll never forget this because it was kind of embarrassing, um my face viscerally reacted it like gnarled a little bit and turned really red and I didn’t know what to say because while I had learned a lot I also was in my heart just going oh my god I’m leaving next month as I gotta get out of this place 

09:47  um and what I said was absolutely true and it is what has led me to my career I believe at this point which is that um what I did enjoy about my job and what I do enjoy about my job now today as well is that my role at google was to walk in the room and to fight for and represent the end-user of a product to fight for their rights to a better experience 

10:16 to a more humane experience in a better world through technology now obviously that was a bit separate I didn’t say anything about google but that was my role and today that remains my role but how did I get here well if you go to the next slide after that night uh about a month as I said about a month later I left my job I quit my I quit you know six-figure salary I sold almost everything I own 

10:46 I packed up into my honda accord coupe and I put my bike in the back and I lived out of my car for two and a half months speaking anywhere that would take me I left because I felt I needed to but yet I also didn’t know how it would be received uh three and a half years ago the stuff that I talk about now uh you know nobody really knew if talking about these companies gonna get you in trouble like the biggest name at the time that had done some of this stuff you know Tristan harris had left and done a couple of things that were you know bubbling here and there but mostly the biggest name at the time uh was ed Snowden right and I think that’s what kept so many people and still to this day keeps people silent 

11:31 is we don’t want to be we don’t want to have our lives disrupted that much right um we don’t want to have to think about leaving our families getting off the grid doing these things but yet silicon valley was set up in such a nasty way to you know protect the business over the employee to protect secrets to do things that were ruthless that were great for business but ruthless and so I left and I did it this way because I you know I sold all the stocks I had nothing invested because I wanted to make sure there was no conflict of interest 

12:04 I wanted to make sure that people could believe me and that I funded this and I still have to this day funded the entire thing um so yeah I’ve spent the last three and a half years traveling the world speaking and if you go to the next slide um all funded by myself oftentimes living on couches or out of my car literally sleeping out of my car sometimes you know I started off just driving and finding places because I you know I built a name at that point I started off this is an SAP it’s a small group but over time as I kept knocking on doors it continued to grow people continue to get more interested   

12:42  a lot of technologists knew what I was saying was true but they weren’t quite sure if they were allowed to say it as well and so I found a lot of people pulling me in to speak truth to their employer that, to be honest, they were a bit concerned to speak about themselves and I and that’s why I left because I knew at the time I was 27 years old

13:03  um i I’m very healthy I didn’t really need health insurance like some people actually do um I didn’t need to have a steady home I didn’t need some of these things because I was healthy and young and free um I knew it was just a time in my life to make a leap and to take a risk because I knew there were and there still are a lot of people who want to take this leap but who are scared or   

13:28  or don’t have the resources or need the health insurance or you know so many other reasons and so I said I can do this and let’s see what happens and so here you can see sap but to continue the next slide um 

13:45  over the time it’s gone much larger i’ve gone from rooms of 10 or 20 to literally i’ve been in rooms of several hundred or up to low thousands speaking and that has led as the next slide will show you, uh this led to ted talk has led to international speaking circuits 

14:01  a lot of impacts uh and it’s not just that big impact it’s easy it’s even going into you know uh middle schools and high schools and talking to kids and talking to parents and all this and along with it you go to the next slide um I’ve also launched a book

14:16  uh the book is called automating humanity the purpose being to make a book that is accessible to society right there are so many books out there that are great and that are about these topics but oftentimes they are you know three inches thick and uh unreadable to the average human    

14:34   my book for technologists you’ll probably read the first section or two maybe three out of four and you’ll be like I kind of knew that but the fourth section is where I propose the new ideas and that’s where a lot of the interest comes in for technologists and then I have these technologies tell me well I didn’t get a lot out of it besides that last section and that’s okay because I made this for the people where I’m from 

15:00  right remember at the beginning of the story I told you when I came out of Nebraska it was like I was talking to aliens well in 2017 when I went home is while I was working at google I was going to speak at the university i went to go pay for lunch and the way i did it was with apple pay which at the time in 2017 was every day in san Francisco right no big deal but when i did it in Nebraska i paid i tapped my phone and i grabbed my sandwich and i and i started to walk away and i got yelled at because they thought i was stealing uh this is the disparity in the knowledge that we’re working with  

15:41  so for some of you who have never been to the midwest who have never maybe even left the silicon valley bubble all of this feels like oh yeah I live in this is how life is but you have to realize we all have to realize most of us live at the bleeding edge of this stuff right we are the early adopters we are seeing things that many other people in the world may not see for years or decades and so this book was made for them how do we help entire segments of society leapfrog into this new era 

16:11  because that’s what we need we need to help them speed up to that accelerating curve of innovation and so that’s what this book was really for it’s for society um if you go to the next slide 

16:23 I’ve also created beacon the better ethics and consumer outcomes network now the purpose of beacon a lot of people like what do you do um we take ethical dilemmas ethical issues these things we all know and hear about and talk about and we work our hardest to translate them into consumer outcomes because when something becomes a consumer outcome it becomes a business situation and at that point, we can figure out how to drive revenue with it right if you can take these problems and you can go to a company and say I’ve figured out a solution and this solution will earn you fifteen percent more revenue next year or fifty percent more revenue next year   

17:07  you’re going to move mountains if you think that you want to create regulation it’s gonna take you five or ten years it’s a long haul I’ve been in this now for three and a half years and I’m participating in creating regulation now but it’s been a lot of knocking on doors it’s been a lot of groundwork and it’s very hard and it’s not that we don’t need regulation because we absolutely do 

17:31  but we also need to figure out how to do this on business terms right something I talk to people a lot about a lot of people ask me well isn’t the EU ahead of us they have this new privacy legislation they have all these new laws    

17:44  um what I will say to you is that uh in the united states as much as some of the stuff is a problem right now the freedom that we have the lack of regulation that lack of regulation is also what’s allowed us to get to this place in the first or get to this point in the first place 

18:03 right and that same lack of regulation can be used to innovate around these companies and so that’s what our focus is we take ethical problems we figure out how to turn them into a consumer outcome and then we figure out how that drives better business and more revenue so that we can move these problems forward and change business paradigms in two or three years 

18:24 instead of waiting on regulation which may take five or ten or waiting on consumer demand which may take literally generations

18:32 uh and so that’s what we’ve created and the beacon has been my work for the last three and a half three and a half years um so that’s kind of my story that’s how I got here but what I’m here to finish off here with is uh our role as responsible technologists go to the next slide this is a movement in accountability in humanity so what I’ve done is I’ve created five bullet points uh five suggestions that I hope to leave you with to prepare you to not make the same mistakes I did because it has been a long hard journey  

19:08  it’s been more and more so fruitful over the last year or two especially but um it is very hard this is not something for the faint of heart 

19:17  like it’s gonna take a lot of work from all of us but we can do it and so here are my points to go to side one next slide first step is pick a lane and nobody wants to hear this everyone’s like well it’s all interconnected we need to work on it all I want to have an overarching theme this is we’re going to cover everything 

19:36 I started like that everyone starts like that most everyone then gets into it and realizes wow there is so much to do and every single one of these individual things that you’re seeing on a screen here data rights usable privacy dark patterns algorithm by all of these and more are their own industries 

 19:59 and we will see that in the future these will develop out into their own industries that’s how big this is so my first tip to you is to pick a lane 

20:09 and that’s not to try to pigeonhole you or to define you it is to simply say we all need to start shoveling just pick up a shovel and let’s go and if you’re doing one small thing if we’re all doing one small thing and we’re communicating with each other and we’re working together then we will get forward faster 

20:30    than if everyone’s trying to do everything at once so first pick a lane to let’s go step two find a mentor I have a lot of amazing mentors people see my face in a movie people see my face in a publication they see me up talking on stage whatever um there’s not enough recognition for me to give thanks to my mentors 

20:56   uh and additionally there you know everyone I talk to thinks oh this is a brand new field there’s no documentation of anything before there’s no history um there is there are a lot of great technologists who have been trying to do some of this work for 10 or 20 or 30 years    

21:15  but their voices were just not as amplified as some of ours are nowadays because this has become such a public conscious thing right there are a lot of great mentors out there and my biggest tip to you is to go find them because you need that history you need that help you need those connections uh to help you one pick a lane two get going and find the resources and three ultimately like we all need someone to talk to so find a mentor 

21:45  let’s go next please pop your bubble um yeah so as I mentioned a lot of us live within a tech bubble we often don’t get out of that tech bubble and because of that we don’t see the world outside of us, uh the biggest thing that turned me on to there’s a problem here is that I was going home all the time to Nebraska which felt like I was going back in time 10 or 15 years I’m not saying you need to move but I’m saying you need to get out on a regular basis  

22:16 or do your best to figure out a way to make a similar or s I guess simulation of that experience happen so pop your bubble get to know people outside of your everyday circle go travel to other places if you have that ability um or even find a job in another area you know try to try to change your pace that way    

22:38  the next step I’m going to try to keep this within the time I know we’re running a little behind um the next step here is to remain principled this is one of the hardest tips I have on this list because investors want things that you don’t um other people in the world have different motivations than you do it’s very easy especially when you’re tired when you’ve been sleeping out of a car for the last week when you’ve been you know draining your own funds it’s very hard to just say yes give me the money give me the whatever I don’t care what I have to do let’s just throw it at the wind    

23:13 um,  but it’s very important that we all remain principled because if we can’t remain pinned down to a principled uh arena and we lose our course and then we’ll finish the last one here before we get off to questions, uh the last one is stay healthy  

23:29 throughout this entire process I have lack of better words abused myself I’m much better about it now very focused on maintaining my health but there are multiple times that I have had literal crashes I remember a year and a half ago December 2018 I had just published my book finished a world tour that year did all these things amazing things and then i crashed and when i crashed it wasn’t like oh i’m tired this weekend i crashed for two weeks i was sleeping for 12 to 15 hours a day for two weeks and I could barely get out of bed because I was so unhealthy   

24:05 and one of my mentors pulled me aside and said look you need to lead some of this stuff and if you need if we need you to lead it we need you to be healthy that means taking off a weekend and relaxing that means working eight hour workdays sometimes and putting things down even though you may have the passion to continue for 12 or 16 a day that means finding people to surround yourself with to help you   

24:31 and creating a larger impact by working with a community so my last tip to you here is to stay healthy pick a lane, yeah you can go to that’s fine pick a lane find a mentor get out of your bubble to find people outside your bubble remain principled and stay healthy    

24:50 those are some of the five hardest things I think you’re going to run into as a responsible technologist but they are what will lead you to success uh go ahead yep excited that’s all I have I think I’m just a little over time so sorry for that but um yeah thank you all for listening uh if you have any questions feel free to reach out and uh one of the audience members had a question 

25:12 about how do we pick a mentor and maybe you could give a few pointers quickly and then we can wrap up yeah how do you pick a mentor um it’s really tough I mean to find you gotta find someone you have chemistry with right um again you want you to want someone that’s supportive of you there are a lot of really intelligent and powerful people who may not be the best mentor for you simply because they’re going to push you towards things that you know are not healthy 

25:37 um are not what needs to be done sometimes um just kind of follow those tips right make sure that you test your mentor out and ask them questions if their principles don’t align with yours don’t be afraid to walk away sometimes 

25:54   there are lots of people in the world there are lots of people and there are lots of people that want to help right now um so you know remain principled stay true to yourself and if you feel like it it’s upsetting your stomach a little bit like working with someone  or you’re not comfortable it’s probably a sign you know 

26:15  great presentation joe so many things that you have pointed out and especially I really like the way that you actually at the end of your slide also pointed out the mental health issues  

26:27  associated with this like stressing yourself with the max so thank you so much we just had a you know it was great it was like drinking out of a water fountain   

26:37 I mean like the firefox they are saying no so it’s like a lot of information coming out and I’m sure the audience has more questions but maybe they can follow up with you yeah email me uh find me on LinkedIn I don’t really I do have social media accounts I’m not totally off the grid 

26:54  but um find me on Linkedin that’s the best way to message me or email me directly um I feel Susan feel free to send out the info afterward I will definitely do that thank you all for having me and good luck.

Guest Speaker

Joe Toscano

Joe Toscano

Founder of Beacon, Contributor at Forbes, Data Protection at WEF, Former XD, R/GA at Google



Susanna Raj

Leadership team DataEthics4all, Founder of AI4Nomads, Artist & Writer