Ethics and ICT: Beyond design

TitleEthics and ICT: Beyond design
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2014
Authorsvan Oortmerssen, G
Conference NameEthics in Science, Technology and Engineering, 2014 IEEE International Symposium on
Date Published23-24 May 2014
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsBUILDINGS , Collaboration , Computers , emerging , ethical , ethics , evolution , Government , governments , ICT , information , INTELLIGENCE , Interconnected , Internet , massive , NETHERLANDS , Privacy , security , SMS , VALUES , WikiLeaks
AbstractIn recent years it has become quite obvious that ethical aspects play an increasingly important role in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Many incidents like the revelations by WikiLeaks, breach of privacy by governments (massive surveillance by intelligence organisations) as well as by commercial businesses request for importunately reconsidering the way we design and use ICT systems. Recent developments towards integrating human values in design processes are briefly described, including application in the field of ICT. Where it is obvious that privacy and security aspects should be considered carefully in the design phase, it is argued here that a consideration of human values in a broader sense must be addressed in order to increase the acceptability and usefulness of new ICT systems. The role of human values for the adoption of ICT-based working methods in the building construction sector in the Netherlands was recently investigated. Some typical results are presented and discussed. They clearly demonstrate the relevance of values and can be used as a starting point for a process to enhance the adoption of the new digital way of working. It should be recognised, however, that the possibilities to foresee potential ethical aspects in the design phase are limited. Often we find that ICT systems are used in ways that were not intended by the designers. A simple example is SMS messaging, designed to support mobile systems maintenance but discovered by the public as a powerful communication tool. But more important, ICT is developing at an increasingly rapid pace into a huge organism-like “whole” of interconnected systems. This global, web-based “super-system” is not designed but is growing and evolving similar to biological systems. Although the constituting components are designed and controlled by humans, the ensemble, the “whole”, is not. Consequently, we can expect new emergent behaviour due to the - ver growing complexity, raising new ethical issues that were not and could not be foreseen. We should be aware of this development and it is argued that a debate among engineers, scientists and the general public is needed to raise awareness, determine our common values and find new strategies to safeguard these values to the maximum possible.