Welcome back to Ethics In Tech! It’s been a while. And while much has changed since our last post back in 2016, the same digital rights, online privacy and government surveillance issues we reported during the Obama administration demand the same urgent attention and action today, perhaps even more so that Donald Trump, arguably the most corporate-friendly president since the Gilded Age, has risen to power. You can expect the same sort of short and readable yet incisive posts on the most pressing issues involving ethics in technology, with a greater focus on the following four core areas:
In previous posts, EIT has focused on online privacy perhaps more than just about any other issue. And for good reason. Beginning in the George W. Bush administration and accelerating under Barack Obama, government surveillance, aided and abetted by some of the biggest names in the tech industry, has become a largely accepted fact of life not just in the United States but around the world. Only, you and I accept it as a fact of life. In an age when the device in your pocket probably knows more about you than some of your closest friends, and when governments keep finding new reasons to justify spying on you, we must be constantly vigilant to guard against intrusions on our privacy and our liberty. We’ll bring you news from the leading digital and online privacy advocates as well as profiles of cases, individuals and organizations fighting the good fight to protect your privacy.
America’s labor history has been fraught with struggle as workers have fought for their rights and Big Business has pushed back, often with deadly force. The days of mass casualty strikes and physically hostile bosses may be long over, but as many tech sector workers ” especially those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder can attest, there is plenty of lingering and new injustice today and so much work left to be done to improve the overall relationship between the titans of tech and the people Douglas Copland famously called Microserf back in the 1990s. EIT will report on the latest struggles, victories, defeats and actions of those seeking to improve workplace conditions and relations between management and labor.
The burgeoning creation of thinking machines excites humanity with possibilities. But it also raises serious ethical questions that must be addressed early on. Not only are ethicists concerned with ensuring machines do no harm to humans, they must also grapple with questions of the moral and legal status of the machines themselves. As workplace automation continues apace, how can we best manage the inevitable disruption and displacement that will result? How do we best distribute the wealth generated by machines? How do we guard against AI bias? How do we protect AI against adversaries? How will AI affect the way we behave and interact with not only other humans but with AI as well? How can we safeguard against AI mistakes and manage unintended consequences? What, if any, rights will we bestow upon the intelligent machines we create? These and other questions and issues will be the focus of many of our forthcoming posts.
The Environmental Impact of Technology Development
Even in an age of near-universal awareness (sorry, climate deniers) of the imminent threat posed by climate change, little thought is given to the impacts of technology development on Earth’s environment. Every grade school student today knows that human activity is contributing to the possibly existential problem, and they all know that carbon emissions are the number one culprit. But while most informed humans understand the role that relying upon a carbon-based economy plays in contributing to climate change, there hasn’t been the same level of awareness or even thought about the environmental impact of technology development. According to Greenpeace, for example, the cloud consumes as much energy as what would be the world’s sixth-largest nation. EIT will feature regular posts about what Big Tech is and isn’t doing to reduce harm and increase healing of the only planet we’ve got to call home.
And Coming Soon, Ethics In Tech, the Book!
In addition to bringing you news and views on these and other issues regarding ethics in technology, EIT is excited to announce we’re currently working on a book that examines the four core areas outlined above, interwoven within the context of EIT founder Vahid Razavi’s personal life journey and nearly quarter-century of experience in the tech industry. Our founder is in the unique position of having been a tech entrepreneur, a tech worker and a tech activist. He’s known the highs of starting and growing his own technology enterprise and the lows of the injustice of losing it all to a bigger, richer competitor and one that’s intimately involved in the torture business too. Yes, it’s a fascinating story and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you!
We’d like to take this moment to thank all of you dear readers who have been with EIT since we launched, as well as extend a warm welcome to new readers. We look forward to the journey ahead, and as always, we welcome your feedback and comments. We’ll be back shortly with a report on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 2018 Pioneer Awards, held this year in honor of EFF co-founder and modern-day renaissance man John Perry Barlow.