Technology Shifts Create Digital Ethics Dilemmas

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Ethical dilemmas

Businesses that wield vast influence over users of their products and services have an overwhelming responsibility to behave ethically and do the right thing.

Technology Makes Consequences Opaque

Add to these new ecosystems innovations that give automated systems greater influence to make choices. Machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have taken on new meaning by empowering technology not just to execute, but also to learn. Consequently, decisions embedded in the algorithmic part of these machines carry vast influence in the values they inherit. The moral fabric of designers and programmers now becomes part of the new generation of products and services.

Information technology emboldens some people to break their moral resolve. Actions they would not otherwise indulge in are now undertaken casually because the technology intervenes between the actor and the consequences of the act. Remoteness of the effect of one’s immorality does not seem to surface in the mind of the actor because technology makes the consequences opaque. 

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s experiments proved this several decades ago. Electronic networks have nurtured remoteness that now facilitates wrongdoing without much thought. Even the business models that could not be morally supported have now become legitimate enterprises. For example, Ashley Madison boasts millions of subscribers who seem to support the company’s motto: "Life is short, have an affair!"

It is clear that technology has vastly improved the opportunities for a better life. However, in no time in the past has the significance of digital ethics approached its current level. A misstep on the part of those responsible could cause grave consequences. Humanities should be leading the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines to deliver morally proper actions.

Additionally, businesses that wield vast influence over the users of their products and services carry an overwhelming responsibility to do the right things: discourage unhealthy or unsafe user behavior; protect the privacy of user data; keep the network secured; and prevent fake, misleading or harmful information from access the network. 

 Decades ago, some argued that computer ethics is only old wine in a new bottle. Today, more than ever, this statement can be easily rejected. Digital dilemmas are about to consume leaders worldwide.

Vasant Raval is ISACA's expert on digital ethics and a professor at the Heider College of Business, Creighton University.

This article was originally published on 2017-07-19
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