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Should social impact of AI be part of a start-up’s strategy?

Tempugo's Founder Luciano Oviedo shares some cognitive food for thought on the social impact of AI



Technologies have and will always change the world - the open questions are for whom and how.


Popular examples from history include - the printing press enabled the scaling of information sharing; the assembly line enabled the scaling of manufacturing; the microchip enabled the scaling of computing and the internet enabled the scaling of communications. Today, highly evolving technologies such as AI, 5G, Cloud, IOT, Fog, blockchain and AR/VR are on the verge of changing the world, yet again.  Unlike previous technology evolution's though, we still understand very little on how AI, in combination with these other novel technologies, may impact societies and communities from a human-to-human, human-to-machine and machine-to-machine interactions perspective.

As usual, recently fueled start-ups are driving this next evolution across many fronts. For example, according to the AI Index 2018 Report, the rise in AI-funded start-up’s increased by 350% from 2013 to 2017 to ~$5B invested.  

Then, in 2018, this almost doubled to ~$9.3B invested, according to PWC where although the number of start-ups funded went from 533 to 466, the amount invested per start-up increased.

But, how many of these start-ups are asking themselves questions such as:

  • What is the social impact of my AI products/services?

  • To what extent does my customers perception of AI impact their purchasing decision (of my AI product/service)?

  • How might we comprehend the social impact of our AI products/services into our GTM strategy?

In a recent article, “So you think you have an AI strategy? Think again.”, with the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), we shared one way how an organization could explore the social impact of their respective AI products/services with the idea they could take key learning’s and incorporate it back into their strategy practice, process or content. Similarly, McKinsey just posted an article, “Can AI help society as much as it helps business?” describing how technological social responsibility (TSR) is an emerging business imperative in the era of AI.

In the IIC journal article, we explore the plausible social impact of autonomous vehicles as a proxy for social impact of AI across a variety of factors. In terms of productivity, we found the potential benefits stand to be very high. More specifically, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that Americans spend 70B hours per year driving (or, an average of 51 minutes per day each), increasing steadily at 8% since 2014. 



Of that, Americans lost an average of 97 hours a year (or, an average of 17 minutes per day each) due to congestion, according to INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard. The costs from congestion alone costs Americans nearly $87 billion in 2018, an average of $1,348 per driver in productivity. Highly populated areas were worst - Boston drivers lost up to $2,291 per year due to congestion, followed by Washington D.C. ($2,161), Seattle ($1,932), Chicago ($1,920) and New York City ($1,859). A different study by INRIX found that Americans on average spend another 17 hours per year looking for parking with the biggest cities taking 3 to 5 times longer resulting in 60 to 100 hours per year. The costs from looking for parking costs Americans $73B per year. Wasting time is not just an American phenomenon. Bloomberg reports that British spend 91 hours per year looking for a parking, nearly 5 times more than they spend waiting in line.

To clarify, these examples only represent the time wasted that occurs just to get from point A to point B – imagine how much more time is wasted when your consider events, activities or tasks before you leave and/or after you arrive?

Either way, the promise of AI, in this case autonomous vehicles, is to significantly improve productivity by reducing or eliminating the time wasted due to driving, congestion or looking for parking. From this particular angle, the plausible social impact of AI seems to be very beneficial. There are other factors to consider though which may result in plausible risks such as job losses due to automation. Our research indicates that start-up's proactively addressing these class of topics and questions before they emerge will help it achieve and maintain successful “product-market fit”. This is especially true for start-up's building AI-enabled products/services impacting industries such as (smart) cities, infrastructure, health, education or public services.


Tempugo is striving to proactively comprehend and characterize the social impact of emerging technologies into both their products, services and strategy. They explore topics at the intersection of strategy, social impact and emerging technologies and will be discussing their findings at the Warwick CG Conference on Reframing Impact in December 2019 in London, UK at the Warwick Business School, Shard Campus and the SMS Special Conference on Designing the Future in Berkeley, USA at the University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business also being supported by Warwick CG.


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