The Ethical Implications of Advancing Technology
Ethics are rules that tell us what kind of behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. Along with societal ethics, each person also has their own individual ethics, which dictate our conduct in personal and private settings. Ethics are also rife in the business world. Companies have a responsibility towards their employees, customers, and the environment, which are regulated by their own company-wide and societal ethics.
As technology advances, there are constant discussions about ethics in technology. Ethical technology focuses on the relationship between humans and technology, and the impact that technological advances can have. Once an innocent space used to search for information, the darker side of the internet has now spiraled into online bullying, celebrity drama, and so-called cancel culture. Many companies enter the market with little consideration for the ethical issues that may occur later on.
We want the latest apps and technology to keep up with current trends, but how are companies using our data? How do they treat their employees? What is their stance on environmental sustainability? As technology advances rapidly, the risk of ethical issues becomes greater as companies bulldoze their ideas in a race to the top without thinking about the social or environmental impact of their behavior.
How does advancing technology impact our privacy and security?
Ethical issues in technology are more common than we think. Oversharing via social media has become the norm, and young people today tend to post more information online than they share in person. One of the biggest ethical problems in technology is that we do not know how tech companies use our data. We share our location through logging running routes, restaurants, or even using search engines, trusting that companies use our data responsibly, but there is no way of telling if this is the case. What happens to our private information if companies get hacked, change hands, or even go bust?
Voice assistants use artificial intelligence (AI) to play music, control other electrical devices and household appliances, and even check our bank balances. We can find voice assistants on smartphones, smartwatches, and devices like Amazon’s Alexa. Voice assistants have been around since 2014, bringing convenience and helping to improve the lives of those with disabilities or mobility issues. But allowing voice assistants such in-depth access to our personal information has a sinister side, too. To work properly, voice assistants require access to our contact information and financial details, leaving us vulnerable to identity theft. Furthermore, voice assistants could be listening to or even recording our private conversations as they wait for voice cues.
What impact will advanced tech have on jobs and the workforce?
The Covid-19 pandemic expedited the use of technology in our lives by many years. Almost overnight, online meetings, digital teaching, and working from home became the norm. In the US alone, the pandemic accelerated the digitization of customer interactions by three years, while respondents in a recent survey stated that 80% of their interactions are now online. As a result, tech companies have been pushing the boundaries of technology and seeing how far it can enhance or even take over daily tasks.
There is no denying that chatbots such as ChatGPT have taken the world by storm. However, such disruptive technology has led to huge ethical discussions, namely, how advanced technology will impact our jobs and working life. ChatGPT is an AI tool that generates human-like text using a vast database of available written work already posted online. Using prompts, it can write emails, articles, blogs, and poems at the touch of a button. One of the largest ethical dilemmas in technology is the impact such technological advances have on humans, in particular, displacing them from their jobs.
But try not to panic just yet. Although AI and robotics could displace 85 million jobs by 2025, a further 97 million could emerge as a result. Moreover, while there is no doubt that such technology could disrupt repetitive, easily automated jobs, chatbots cannot understand or generate information the way humans do. As AI tools rely on data already generated online, they are prone to bias and misinformation. Many companies and universities have already banned the use of chatbots, and some are even suing large AI companies for using their images for training purposes without permission.
What are the environmental impacts of advancing technology?
We must consider the implications of our actions on our planet amidst such vast technological advancements. It is up to large, influential companies to pave the way to becoming more environmentally conscious, but this is not always the case. In their efforts to be the best, large tech companies can hinder our movement toward a more sustainable life. One of the ways they do this is by so-called ￼planned obsolescence, where a product, for example, a smartphone, becomes unusable after some time. Companies deliberately slow down smartphones or restrict access to repair services, encouraging people to purchase new devices.
What does this mean for our environment? Old, discarded devices end up in a landfill, contributing to the already bulging USD $6.2 billion of electrical waste we produce annually.
Furthermore, our reliance on technological devices increases our carbon footprint, even before they end up in our hands. Manufacturing the components required to make our beloved devices uses massive amounts of energy, including worldwide transportation. Even storing data on servers and data banks uses large quantities of energy each year that may not be derived from renewable energy sources.
Why is there a need for ethical design in tech?
Most designers probably do not mean to be offensive when planning new technology. But some designs can get abused or fail to consider certain aspects that make their technology dangerous or harmful to users. As technology involves a relationship between the technology and the user, designers must consider their new designs from a user’s perspective.
Even games can fall victim to ethical issues. One famous example is the Pokemon Go game released in 2016. In a mix of physical and virtual worlds, players would chase Pokémon characters around streets and cities using smartphones. But designers failed to consider the ethical implications of this consumer-generated content, and users were led into dangerous rural areas, and even illegally entered restricted land without permission. The game also distracted drivers as they tried to catch Pokémon characters while at the wheel. Designers did not expect users would go all out to catch ‘em all, which is why ethics from a holistic perspective is vital in tech design.
Why do we need regulation and governance?
Regulation and governance are vital to prevent large tech companies from taking advantage of their status and producing new devices or tools with no regard for ethics.
Furthermore, tech companies can abuse their position and monopolize certain areas.
In 2022, the European Union (EU) ruled that Apple must change its iPhone chargers for the EU market to comply with new requirements for a single charging port for electronic devices. The first of its kind, the new rule will be introduced in 2024 and aims to standardize USB-C connectors as chargers for smart devices.
Moreover, in an attempt to restrict the environmental impact of tech waste, California became the first US state to pass a new law banning electronics from being thrown into garbage cans. Although there is no country-wide law for electronic waste disposal, many states are taking matters into their own hands, with 23 states even requiring manufacturers to bear the costs of collecting and disposing of electrical products. It is hoped that this will force manufacturers to reconsider their design options and opt for a more green approach instead.
In today’s world, it is difficult, or even impossible, to detach ourselves fully from technology. Disruptive technologies like ChatGPT and other AI tools provide an immense opportunity for companies to become faster, more responsive, and more efficient. But such technology is not without ethical implications. Companies should thoroughly discuss potential ethical issues arising from new technology, such as job displacements, safety issues, and the environmental impact of their actions, to prevent an ethical headache down the line. Although embracing technology brings many advantages, there are also negative aspects of bulldozing advanced technology without considering the ethical impact it may have. Luckily, forward-thinking companies like Acer have already started taking active steps towards reducing their environmental impact through dedicated recycling initiatives and trade-in programs, and take responsibility for the ethical implications their technology may have.
Jeni is a translator and writer based in Taiwan. She is passionate about business development and loves helping companies enter international markets. She is fluent in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, and combines these with her industry experience to provide practical market entry solutions.