• Jonathan Ebsworth

Bringing Digital Ethics to Life


Introduction

techUK is the UK technology industry trade body, representing more than 900 companies; covering industry giants to the new tech startups. It exists to develop new technology markets and to reduce business risks. Digital Ethics is a key focus for techUK. In February 2019, it published an action-focused paper called ‘Digital Ethics in 2019’.


The debate around Digital Ethics (including AI) has too often swung between ill-informed, irrational screams of attention- seeking media organisations and an abstact, academic debate held among the business, technical and political elite. We want to increase understanding and broaden engagement around this crucial topic.



8 Actions for 2019 to move the digital ethics debate forwards

Building from the techUK report, we will use their 8 action points to frame a series of posts:

  1. Make the digital ethics debate relevant and valuable to people

  2. Engage with the public across the UK

  3. Industry must demonstrate how ethics is having an impact

  4. Think digital ethics not just AI ethics

  5. Create a joined-up digital ethics ecosystem through coordination of initiatives and activities

  6. Embed ethical decision making in business decision-making

  7. Ensure regulators have the capability and capacity needed to consider ethics

  8. Ensure the UK continues to play a role in the international ethics debate

We want to explore why each point matters and how it can be tackled.


Why does Digital Ethics matter?

We are in the early stages of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Time-based predictions of what will happen when are hopelessly unreliable. There is broad consensus that we are facing some of the furthest reaching socio-economic changes for many decades. It is likely that some of today’s most labour-intensive industries and businesses may employ few, if any people at all once this revolution stabilises. Digital automation of roles will impact skilled and unskilled workers alike.


New jobs will emerge – but it is not clear what, where, when and what number there will be or what skills they will require. No one seems to agree on any of this at the moment.


Professions which have employed 10,000s providing highly structured career paths like law and accounting are already embracing digital automation. The full employment impact has barely been felt, but it is likely that far fewer junior roles will be needed in the near future.


Our education system in the UK is in crisis. The 1990s dogma of tertiary education for ‘most’ is beginning to unravel in the face of staggering levels of student debt and the questionable value of some courses. Our secondary system is over-focused on providing ‘college fodder’ for narrow, traditional academic learning paths; achieving good exam grades fuelling league-table positions and seems to lack appreciation of what the future of work holds for their students.


Society is under pressure. Traditional community and individual identities are fading. Our political systems are shuddering under shockwaves from around the world. ‘Left-’ and ‘right-’ leaning political groups are weaponizing ‘fake news’; which is only recognised long it ceased to matter.


Conclusion

These are uncertain times. If we, as citizens and business leaders in a democratic society want to be a force for good, then we have a responsibility to step up and understand what is happening around us. We need to grasp the potential of this technology revolution. We need a plausible vision for the future society we want and we need to hold politicians, business leaders, colleagues and ultimately ourselves accountable for our contribution to that outcome.

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