The ethics of technology

Alex Hughes explores the ethical issues that come with advancements in technology


Should drones be allowed to operate in the world of paparazzi? Should self-driving cars save the driver or the lives of others in a potential crash? Should robots be treated with the same moral beliefs that humans are? These are the ethical questions surrounding technology which have arisen in recent years.

Scientists have already started to debate these issues and as we advance further into technology these ethical considerations will become more important. Many scientists argue that the moral decisions should be levelled with the design and technology decisions that are made when approaching technological advances.

Arguably the best example comes in the form of gene editing. This has been a massively controversial discussion when it comes to ethics. Back in 2015, a crucial scientific summit was held to debate the issue of gene editing and whether or not it should be banned.

Gene editing raises a number of ethical questions, most notably around the idea of ‘designer babies’. Should we be able to edit a baby’s genes to fix its flaws? What if there was a prenatal test to see if a child was going to have a below average intelligence and there was the ability to alter this? What if this treatment was exclusive to the rich? These are the kind of ethical issues that come with the controversial idea of gene editing.

However these ethical issues are not limited to biology, they can be found in a number of other areas. As social media and the internet become a more ingrained part of our society the question of data and machine learning becomes more of an issue. Online data is becoming more and more prominent in both policing and law. Is it ethical to use your private Facebook history against you in a police case? Or your phone’s location tracking in a court case? As more data is gathered on us it is being used more frequently in these sorts of cases; privacy in the conventional sense has changed drastically because of this.

Data isn’t just an issue when it comes to court cases and police proceedings. An interviewer must take extreme care to not push lines about religion, sexual preference and ideologies however they are free, if not advised to look through your social media’s and your online history. It was not that long ago that Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing revealed the extreme snooping of the NSA and even more recently that the UK government proposed the investigatory powers act, an act which allowed for snooping power unmatched by most Western countries.

The issue is that technology is advancing quicker than ethics can keep up with it and although recent years have shown a push to try and match ethics with design it will not always be a trying and ambiguous task.

Last year America’s Carnegie Mellon University opened its new centre studying artificial intelligence ethics and under President Obama, a paper was published on this same idea. The technology giants of the world like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have voiced their extreme worry around the ethics of these technologies and stated that other people should also be worried and not take the advancements of AI and robotics lightly.