Technology Ethics. How To Tame The Digital Beast.

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Digital technology is often our friend, but just as often our enemy. “Fake news”, “disinformation”, “deep fakes”, “attacks on privacy”, “algorithmic distortions” and “surveillance capitalism” – among other threats – constitute the ethics of the majority of companies, their employees and the “users”. Question ”who participate in the digital economy.

The threats are particularly challenging for the companies that make money from fake news, disinformation, deepfakes, threats, algorithmic bias and surveillance capitalism – and there are many of them. There are also companies that “torment” the truth again and again for profit reasons. Investment banks, prominent consulting firms and accounting firms are constantly being fined. Some of the fines are for misdeeds that challenge us on so many levels.

As many companies struggle with the need to show their investors profits while staying on the ethical straight and narrow, opportunities arise to reap huge profits from less-than-ethical behavior (Facebook’s revenue in 2021 was $81 billion and his net income was a staggering $30 billion) are everywhere. They are also seductive: being bad can be profitable. The pollution of the ethical waters is the lack of regulation and governance around these opportunities.

Challenges?

Too many to list.

regulations?

Too few to find.

Accountability?

Tiny percentages of sales.

What now?

Mapping the challenges

Digital technology creates a variety of ethical challenges that we should acknowledge, especially as technology becomes an increasingly important part of our personal and professional lives. Interested in exploring the range of challenges and how we could reduce their number and impact through a variety of “regulatory” and “corporate governance” moves?

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Ethical OS, a company that researches ethical challenges created by technology, summarizes the ethical challenges that digital technology enables in the figure below. Ethical OS also provides an extensive ethical risk assessment checklist. This checklist, expressed in questions, was used to measure the breadth and depth of the technology-enabled ethical challenges here.

Four matrices appear below.

Note that there are no dark green options – not really good news.

entitlement matrices

Ethical OS suggests that we assess the feasibility level and impact that ethical solutions could have. Four matrices are discussed here that speak to:

  1. Disinformation, privacy, surveillance and all things data
  2. AI and machine learning
  3. Access, preparedness and have-for-have nothing
  4. Hateful and criminal actors

The first matrix, built on the excellent Ethical OS structure, suggests that there are a number of steps we could take to address disinformation, privacy, surveillance and all things data. Just look. Is it reasonable to expect that antitrust rules aren’t enough, that the US won’t enact GDPR-like regulations, that blocking and removing content is almost as unlikely, and that self-government by individuals and companies is simple but has little impact? you have the idea

Next come approaches centered around the ethics of access, preparedness, and have-versus-have-not. This inevitably becomes political. Note that net neutrality, subsidies, internet for all, and internet-as-a-utility options are at the forefront to increase access, improve preparedness, and close some of the inequality gaps.

The next matrix focuses on the ethical challenges surrounding AI and machine learning. Fortunately, there are two light green options here, although what the EU has done is identified as a guide for the US. The other suggests that AI and machine learning can support DEI. While serious regulatory moves are unlikely – impactful as they may be – explainable AI (XAI) holds promise.

The final matrix deals with hateful and criminal actors. The Europeans are far ahead of the US in this area. Check out the options in the image below.

Conclusions

There is a lot at stake here. Without some degree of regulatory and governance intervention, ethical challenges will increase.

We also know that:

  • The US lags far behind the developed world in regulatory policies that address digital ethics.
  • The US Congress is reluctant to meaningfully regulate digital platforms regardless of ethical violations. US lawmakers are committed to US corporations and their profit engines rooted in digital transaction processing, which through lobbying and other financial influences constrains digital regulation.
  • Self-regulation and self-government have failed to reduce or address ethical challenges.
  • There are clear regulatory and governance guidelines that the US could follow to improve its ethical record.

Here I wish everyone the best of luck.

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