DMU expert on the five big issues facing digital technology

Digital technology has given us the world we live in and continues to advance at a pace we can barely keep up with.

But for every benefit tech advances have offered us, they have carried with them just as many challenges.

AI resized

With the rise of popular AI programmes, the future looks just as bright as it complex.

Simon Rogerson, Professor Emeritus in Computer Ethics at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has written widely on the subject in a trilogy of books available now:

Here, Professor Rogerson looks at the five biggest issues and considerations we face in our modern digital world.

1. Challenging technological bandwagons

The latest trending technological bandwagon is Artificial Intelligence. AI is being heralded as the solution to many of society’s problems. AI suppliers and politicians promote AI as first choice in addressing many issues and needs. Little attention is given to long term ramifications of such short term thinking. That is until now. On 23 March Future of Life Institute published, Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter, signed by around 1000 AI-associated leaders. It explained that “Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.” Decisions to develop should not be left to technology leaders but should involve wider society. Therefore, it was proposed to pause AI development for six months to develop and implement jointly a set of shared safety protocols for advanced AI design and development. The technological bandwagon has been challenged!

2. Responsible marketing

In recent days ITV has been broadcasting an advert about the AirPods Pro. A young women is shown using AirPods while walking in an urban area. The clear message is that surroundings and associated noise disappear when using this latest technology. You are in your own world, uninterrupted and unaware of what is around you. As the scene progresses she walks across a road where there is traffic. She does not notice the traffic and carries on. Such portrayals of technology are socially irresponsible because using technology which obliterates warnings of potential danger such as oncoming traffic when crossing a road puts people’s safety at risk. The consideration of the context within which technology is being used must be paramount when marketing products.

3. Providing equal access

Throughout the digital technology evolution there has existed divides in access and opportunity. The rural-urban digital divide is a prime example. Lack of rural access to cutting edge communication technology has been a constant as societal wellbeing has been overridden by commercial priorities. The lack of fundamental infrastructure has a growing impact as smart technology becomes more prevalent in every aspect of everyday life including accommodation, travel, shopping, socialising, healthcare, tourism and education. Governments across the world have embarked on major smart cities initiatives in order to stay at the forefront of technological change. This has resulted in lack of financial and political support of potential improvements through smart technology applications for those living in rural areas.

4. Checking dual use

There is increasingly widespread use of drones both in military and civil contexts. Typical civil applications include aerial photography and videography, delivery, surveying, inspections and surveillance. Typical military applications include intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance and ordnance carriage for drone strikes. In both contexts drones can be used both for ethically justifiable reasons and unethical reasons. Context can result in the same application being judged ethical in one situation but unethical in another, for example this could apply to military offensive versus military defensive situations. The awareness of dual use is important in ensuring the acceptable application of advancing digital technology.

5. Acting ethically

In 2020, many of the convictions of 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses were overturned as it was proved that the Horizon digital accounting system installed by the Post Office in 1999 had many faults, leading to massive financial discrepancies which were wrongly attributed to Post Office employees. Unverified digital forensics was the only evidence used for conviction – clearly an unethical action which led to the ruination of innocent people’s lives and in some cases led to their deaths. Virtuous action by all those developing, maintaining and managing the system could have prevented this tragedy.

Posted on Tuesday 16 May 2023

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