We live in an era marked by the rapid penetration of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in ever more aspects of business and society. This makes it imperative that the organizations developing these technologies not only contemplate the ethical implications but also actively encourage routine ethical behavior as these technologies are designed, developed, distributed and deployed. From AI to blockchain to quantum computing, the explosive growth of new digital technology is a defining feature of the current era. While new technologies can serve as powerful instruments to help organizations become smarter and more agile, their deployment must be carefully planned to avoid adverse consequences.
Most companies today understand the importance of ensuring that the technology they employ is trustworthy (i.e. that it addresses foundational security, privacy and regulatory concerns). Lately, however, many are beginning to acknowledge a range of new ethical challenges related to how such emerging and disruptive technologies are designed, delivered and used in ways that may erode fundamental human values (e.g. equality and autonomy), and which require careful judgement to identify and mitigate. The International Society for Business, Ethics and Society, established in 1988, sought to encourage the growth of business ethics in countries all over the world. As the business has grown and expanded, business ethics have evolved and expanded. Business globalization was the next move, and computers, the digital revolution and the growth of information technology have transformed business further and posed new ethical concerns, including privacy and intellectual property.
While critical ethical thinking about technology may be a new skill set for some, almost everyone agrees that issues such as data privacy and algorithmic bias can pose significant reputational and financial risks if unaddressed. Deloitte’s Trustworthy & Ethical Tech offerings prioritize the ethical implications of technology. Working with both the World Economic Forum and the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, Deloitte considers this as a critical moment for emerging technology-dependent organizations. Recent technologies offer market opportunities but often leave many companies struggling to make ethical choices regarding the use of technology that is true to their corporate values, often contributing to unexpected consequences.
Ethical use of technology should consider three critical components: education in how emerging technologies work and what ethical challenges they might pose; the product life cycle and development of the tools needed to help drive ethical outcomes; and the design of organizations, to ensure that the people creating, deploying and using these tools are motivated and equipped to make ethical choices. Given the immense impact that technology can have on individuals, corporations and society more broadly, institutions have begun to actively identify best practices to ensure its ethical use.