By Adel Boujedada:
Technology has surpassed its traditional role as a mere tool that facilitates our lives, to a transforming force that shapes our existence in every aspect. This comes with numerous concerns that need to be addressed: in fact, most of today’s innovation in technology is developed without consideration for human consequences, and safeguards.
On March 19, 2018, a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, USA, reviving debates on the ethics of having self-driving cars in the public space.
The lack of accountability systems, which keeps technology checked with what is best for humanity, steers the conversation to the question of how to ensure that Tech works for society.
One answer could be ethics, which are defined as moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity. Human Rights constitute one source of ethical guidelines.
Far from being neutral, technology is a reflection of its makers and their conception of the world. They should be provided with guidance on how to invent in an ethical way that works best for all of us.
It is more than ever urgent for ethics, Human Rights, to be embedded in the very heart of the creation of technology. This is possible by inserting ethics curricula in the training of technology innovators and developers, and by fostering diversity of gender, opinions, social and professional backgrounds in teams.
Diversity, a channel to embed ethics in tech
In May 2016, a controversy emerged on how a computer program used by a US court for risk assessment was biased against African-American prisoners. Algorithmic bias is the direct cause of the human bias.
No, the answer is not to diversify the data sets, like this Chinese company, which chose to deploy its products in Africa, to suppress racial bias in its facial recognition software. In fact, nothing guarantees that the product will not be used to help dictators identify their opponents more easily during demonstrations.
Instead, companies and products designers need diverse teams, which involve experts in technology and in humanities, men and women, no matter where they come from. There are some examples of good interactions between different communities and creators of services.
This year, Internet Without Borders was, for the first time, at the Internet Freedom Festival, a yearly conference which gathers tech developers and innovators, digital rights advocates, activists, and foundations, to discuss emerging threats to the open and free Internet, and how to fight back. It was interesting to meet the makers of products that we use, and advise them on how the communities use them.
The project Tor also organizes frequent gatherings to meet its users and contributors. It’s refreshing to see that the team makes it a priority to go to places where free expression and privacy are most at risk in the Global South: the next Tor meeting will be in Mexico City, in September! And by the way, their new Executive Director is the talented Isabela Bagueros, from Brazil!
Rightscon is another great example of how businesses, organizations, activists, and governments can discuss and work together to solve Human Rights challenges in the tech industry.
But, most of these examples come from the Internet Freedom community. The private sector should do the same.
We were at the 3rd edition of the Viva Technology, the international conference dedicated to the growth of startups, digital transformation, and innovation, in Paris. The issue of creating bridges between Tech and ethics communities was not central, despite the obvious urgency. Few discussions were related to the need to ethically do tech business.
We agree with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who said that “If you do not want to block innovation, it is better to frame it from the beginning with ethical and philosophical lines”.
But to do that, we need more diversity and more collaborations. We are far from achieving this.
About Adel Boujedada:
Adel is a is a new graduate of the Paris III university. He has undertaken studies in European and International relations. Currently, he is an intern at Internet Sans Frontieres where he occupies the position of an assistant director.
Reach out to Adel: firstname.lastname@example.org