You are viewing content from a past/completed QCon

Presentation: Why Should We Care About Technology Ethics?

Track: Tech Ethics: The Intersection of Human Welfare & STEM

Location: St James, 4th flr.

Duration: 10:35am - 11:25am

Day of week: Wednesday

Share this on:

This presentation is now available to view on InfoQ.com

Watch video with transcript

What You’ll Learn

  1. Learn about the newly updated ACM Code of Ethics.
  2. Hear ways to think about your job through a lens of ethics and responsibility.
  3. Find out what you as a developer can do to deal with ethical issues

Abstract

Ethics is a rising buzzword in the technology sector. Users, developers, innovators, and the general public are increasingly concerned about the impact that technologies are having on society. Companies like Facebook and Google are facing internal and external pushback against their business and development decisions, particularly when it comes to privacy and data protection. Governments are slowly coming around to enacting policy to curb excesses of the technology industry.  How can companies and developers ensure that their technologies are beneficial to society, and socially acceptable? How can companies avoid a future of lawsuits and degradation of trust?

 

This presentation will look at some of these issues from the perspective of the recently updated Association of Computing Machinery's Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, and place it within a "responsible innovation" framework that asks technical innovators to anticipate the impact of their technologies, reflect on the ethical issues, engage with diverse stakeholders, and act to ensure issues that arise are mitigated or avoided.

Question: 

What is the work you’re doing today?

Answer: 

The recent work I've been doing has been on what we call responsible research and innovation. This concept has come out of European funded projects looking at how we can make the tech industry better in terms of serving society with their innovations, as opposed to the primary goal of making a lot of money (or getting the most users).

Question: 

Last year the ACM updated the Code of Ethics. What was your role with them?

Answer: 

I was on the steering committee to redevelop the ACM Code of Ethics. I was invited to do this because of my history looking at things like how do we practically integrate ethics in industry, how do we make a more responsible ethical society through tech, how do we get tech working with and for society, and the like.

 

The reason we updated  it in the first place is because the previous version was written in 1992, which is a little bit out of date. Since then, the Internet (and many other new and exciting technologies) came along, and it affected society in completely new and interesting ways that we didn't actually expect when the original code was written. Don Gotterbarn,  who was involved in writing the original code, was the chair of the Code update committee.

Question: 

How do you answer someone who says the goal of a corporation is to return value to their shareholders, not to be ethical, not to do social good?

Answer: 

The original purpose of business is to serve society. If you don't serve society it’s less likely that someone will buy your product because you're not going to have a market. And these days there's a been huge push from society towards requiring more ethical business practices. We've also seen pushback from employees within several well-known large companies when it comes to ethical issues, so there’s internal as well as external push for more ethical technologies. We're seeing these sorts of demands for more environmental considerations, more sustainability considerations, and more concern for the societal impact of technologies too.

 

People are worried about their data, they're worried about their privacy, they're worried about their kids, they're worried about all kinds of ethical issues that impact them. The fact that a lot of these companies have been able to operate in a relatively grey area for so long has meant that we've actually seen where these cases can go. There's now demand for governments to regulate more heavily, as can be seen with the GDPR.

Question: 

What do you hope people leave your talk with?

Answer: 

First, I hope that they'll leave with the idea that the Code of Ethics is not just a punitive kind of “Thou Shall Not” set of directions, because what we wanted to do with this code is also to make it an aspirational set of guidelines for positively working in the tech industry. 

 

We're aiming at anyone who works in computing, even if it's just peripherally, such as doing data entry in a finance job or something like that. We want to inspire people to think about their role and its impact on society, doing their job ethically and responsibly, and these ethical guidelines will hopefully help them do much more in service of society.

There are also some quite interesting nuances that I think some of the more philosophical minded people amongst the audience might be interested in like how we came up with the wording for some of the clauses.

Speaker: Catherine Flick

Member of ACM Committee on Professional Ethics and One of the Primary Contributors to the ACM Code of Ethics

Dr. Catherine Flick is a reader in computing and social responsibility at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at DMU. She graduated with a BSc (1st class honours) with majors in Computer Science and History & Philosophy of Science from Sydney University, Australia, while working in industry as a systems administrator and web programmer, and a PhD in Computer Ethics from Charles Sturt University, Australia, with a thesis on informed consent and ICT. Areas of research have involved responsible research and innovation in health technologies and cyber security, online child protection, trusted computing, ethics and video games, anonymous technologies and the darknet, and informed consent in ICT. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy with a PGCHE. She is a member of the ACM’s Committee on Professional Ethics, and is a committee member of the ACM’s Code of Ethics update team. She is currently work package leader for the European funded projects COMPASS and Living Innovation, which look at integrating ethics and responsible innovation into SME and large company business practices, and has a long history of working on European projects in this area. In addition, she teaches research methods and computer ethics, and hosts a podcast on ethics and video games called “Not Just A Game”.

Find Catherine Flick at

Tracks

  • Architectures You've Always Wondered About

    Hard-earned lessons from the names you know on scalability, reliability, security, and performance.

  • Machine Learning: The Latest Innovations

    AI and machine learning is more approachable than ever. Discover how ML, deep learning, and other modern approaches are being used in practice.

  • Kubernetes and Cloud Architectures

    Practical approaches and lessons learned for deploying systems into Kubernetes, cloud, and FaaS platforms.

  • Evolving Java

    JVM futures, JIT directions and improvements to the runtimes stack is the theme of this year’s JVM track.

  • Next Generation Microservices: Building Distributed Systems the Right Way

    Microservice-based applications are everywhere, but well-built distributed systems are not so common. Early adopters of microservices share their insights on how to design systems the right way.

  • Chaos and Resilience: Architecting for Success

    Making systems resilient involves people and tech. Learn about strategies being used, from cognitive systems engineering to chaos engineering.

  • The Future of the API: REST, gRPC, GraphQL and More

    The humble web-based API is evolving. This track provides the what, how, and why of future APIs.

  • Streaming Data Architectures

    Today's systems move huge volumes of data. Hear how the innovators in this space are designing systems and leveraging modern data stream processing platforms.

  • Modern Compilation Targets

    Learn about the innovation happening in the compilation target space. WebAssembly is only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Leaving the Ivory Tower: Modern CS Research in the Real World

    Thoughts pushing software forward, including consensus, CRDT's, formal methods & probabilistic programming.

  • Bare Knuckle Performance

    Crushing latency and getting the most out of your hardware.

  • Leading Distributed Teams

    Remote and distributed working are increasing in popularity, but many organisations underestimate the leadership challenges. Learn from those who are doing this effectively.

  • Full Cycle Developers: Lead the People, Manage the Process & Systems

    "Full cycle developers" is not just another catch phrase; it's about engineers taking ownership and delivering value, and doing so with the support of their entire organisation. Learn more from the pioneers.

  • JavaScript: Pushing the Client Beyond the Browser

    JavaScript is not just the language of the web. Join this track to learn how the innovators are pushing the boundaries of this classic language and ecosystem.

  • When Things Go Wrong: GDPR, Ethics, & Politics

    Privacy, confidentiality, safety and security: learning from the frontlines, from both good and bad experiences

  • Growing Unicorns in the EU: Building, Leading and Scaling Financial Tech Start Ups

    Learn how EU FinTech innovators have designed, built, and led both their technologies and organisations.

  • Building High Performing Teams

    To have a high-performing team, everybody on it has to feel and act like an owner. Learn about cultivating culture, creating psychological safety, sharing the vision effectively, and more

  • Scaling Security, from Device to Cloud

    Implementing effective security is vitally important, regardless of where you are deploying software applications.