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  • Jonathan Ebsworth

Digital Ethics not just AI Ethics


After a short pause during April, we have reached the fifth blog based on the eight action points raised in techUKs Digital Ethics paper ( This blog focuses on the need to thinkabout digital ethics, not just AI ethics.

Previously ….

We have described the current technology revolution: how the debate around Digital Ethics has completely failed to engage the public. We explored the need for more appropriate language to enable the debate, and for a long-term campaign to engage the public: making the issues real, relevant and significant. In our last blog we discussed the need for business to demonstrate the relevance of ethics to their actions.

Current discussions are diffuse – we need more precision

The current public debate, led by the business, academic and political elite lacks focus, despite being driven by great intentions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data are by far the most commonly raised themes; but even with the broadest possible definitions, these topics alone cannot address all the challenges we face.

Digital Revolution enabled AI to rise from the ashes of the last AI winter

The last AI winter began with global macro-economic problems which limited the long-term funding available for discretionary investment. It was fundamental technological obstacles that dealt the killer blows – particularly limited processing power, limited data storage and a lack of data itself.

‘Moore’s Law’ has predicted, with reasonably accuracy, the long-term radical increase in available processing power for far longer than we expected. The arrival of nearly ubiquitous fast networks has given birth to massive cloud computing and storage capacity. These developments have removed many of these historical constraints. These developments also initiated the digital surge over 10 years ago. The momentum generated from that wave; particularly the explosion of connected devices, has resulted in a data explosion generating vast datasets which are enabling much of today’s AI.

The AI revolution has only been a possibility because of what has come before.

AI is massively important

AI opens up some incredible possibilities …. providing capabilities that were only recently the stuff of science fiction: learning chess from scratch and surpassing the entire corpus of human chess knowledge within 3 days; interpreting diagnostic test results more consistently, more accurately than human pathologists; rather more disturbingly, tracking the movements of 100,000s of people and even predicting what they are likely to do next; targeting voters with individually tailored political messages to play to their anxieties and manipulate their opinions. We must consider the ethical implications of AI.

…but AI only delivers as part of the Digital Ecosystem

AI along with data are just parts of the full-scale Digital revolution we are experiencing. This upheaval is being driven by a growing collection of capabilities many of which are developing rapidly, becoming robust and scalable. We have to consider all the dimensions that contribute to this revolution, if we are to make sound ethical choices.


The ethical issues we face are digital ones. Let’s focus on the ethics of the whole ecosystem: AI, Data along with everything else digital. Deploying these technologies may drive massive benefit – perhaps including making a start to undoing some of the damage we have inflicted on the Earth. We could, however, do unspeakable damage – accelerating our rush to destruction by careless deployment of new ‘solutions’. Let’s be conscious of the paths we are following and take full responsibility for where they are leading us.

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