You create with technology everyday; we write about technology. But have you ever stopped and thought about the ethics behind the tech?
Didn’t think so, and perhaps you don’t need to, but armchair philosopher Michael Sacasas, blogging at The Convivial Society, has a few thoughts for your ear.
“The failure to seriously consider how new technologies might be weaponized reveals a stunning degree of either naivete, hubris, or recklessness,” he writes.
To be clear, Sacasas isn’t aiming the barb at Media & Entertainment. His comments are directed at the use of technology in society at large.
He is prompted to speak having realized, he says, that different sectors talking about technology shared a common characteristic — “in each case they either expressed bewilderment or an expressed admission of obliviousness about the possibility that a given tech would be put to destructive or nefarious purposes.”
Sacasas is also not suggesting that your digital camera is in danger of becoming a lethal weapon (although, of course, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda made sure its torture porn went viral using digital filmmaking techniques).
He is suggesting that no technology is benign and that “worst case malevolent uses are not the only kinds of morally significant aspects of our technology worth our consideration.”
He argues, not without reason, that society is “deeply invested in the belief that technology is ethically neutral if not, in fact, an unalloyed good” and therefore accepts all tech advances without question.
That’s not the case with Artificial Intelligence, where the likes of Elon Musk have ensured that the ethical dilemmas of creating human sims are at least pondered.
Musk has fewer qualms about space rockets though — a technology that Sacasas would ask the billionaire to re-consider given its seismically negative impact on the resources of planet Earth.
Sacasas is tapping into (and is arguably a forerunner of) the wider meme concerning tech ethics. There are even academic courses on the subject.
In fact, the ethical use of technology, or ethical tech, is inextricably linked to, and an extension of, tech-savviness.
According to Brenna Sniderman, leader of the Center for Integrated Research at Deloitte, being tech-savvy means more than being able to define use cases for cloud or AI — it extends to understanding some of the potential ethical dilemmas that designing or using these technologies can present.
“Indeed, to be truly savvy in the age of advanced, connected, and autonomous technologies, leaders should think beyond designing and implementing technologically driven capabilities. They should consider how to do so responsibly from the start,” Sniderman says.
Sacasas would agree, writing on his blog that the tech industry is deeply invested in the belief that technology is ethically neutral.
“If technology is ethically neutral, then those who design, market, and manufacture technology cannot be held responsible for the consequences of their work. Moreover, we are, as consumers, more likely to adopt new technologies if we are wholly untroubled by ethical considerations. If it occurred to us that every device we buy was a morally fraught artifact, we might be more circumspect about what we purchase.”
Anyway, as a way of probing the issue further, Sacasas has filed a set of 40 questions that may or may not cause you to reconsider your daily dose of tech. The full list is at The Convivial Society and includes:
- What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?
- How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
- How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?
- What was required of the earth so that I might be able to use this technology?
- Does my use of this technology encourage me to view others as a means to an end?
- Does using this technology require me to think more or less?