Our panel of experts identifies the top five ethics and technology issues for the year

Recovering from a brutal recession, we strive to regain economic growth with perseverance, ingenuity, and luck. We predict that the following five issues will dominate the discussions about ethics and technology worldwide in 2017: drones, driverless cars, government spying, innovation, big data, cyber security threats, and mobile devices.

Drones have the potential to grow economies and provide new services. Yet, they can be used for spying and other nefarious uses. When will we see the first assassination by gangs using a drone?

Driverless cars make headlines. Where in the world will we see the first ban on human drivers? How will driverless cars respond to the Philippa Foot’s trolley dilemma?

Government spying, as revealed by Edward Snowden and media outfits like the New York Times, the Guardian, and EL País, is appalling. So is the reversal of the European safe harbor provisions in response to the U.S. government siphoning information from technology companies. Have governments, particularly the U.S. government, overstepped its authority and abused their technical power to spy on their own citizens without reason?

Innovation, as an engine of economic growth, shapes the technology landscape. Encouraged by governments and multinationals attempting to gain a competitive edge, entire sectors of economic activity are undergoing a significant transformation, thanks to technology. A case in point is that of higher education with more distance learning programs than ever, from Massive Online Open Courses taken by thousands of students to hybrid programs with reduced residency requirements. Advertising, media, publishing, retail and other sectors continue their transformation. The sharing economy roars.

Big data floods. The ability to collect and exploit vast amounts of information is the unfulfilled promise of information technology. Multinationals and startups, staffed with professionals with new skills, deliver unparalleled access to that information. Crowd sourcing adds value to open data sets made available by governments. Some abuse the tools and the data. 

Cyber security threats show up on front pages worldwide, like the hacks of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management,  VTech, and Juniper Networks. How many times do we need to change our passwords each year in response to cyber security threats? Are companies doing the right thing with their technologies?

Mobile devices accompany our lives. More devices are our interfaces to the world for communications, information sharing, navigation, payments, health, entertainment, etc. They define our personalities, as seen by others. Unscrupulous actors tap into these devices and their wealth of information to compromise our livelihoods, reputations, privacy and wallets.

As citizens, as technologists, we have an obligation to think about these issues ethically, to harness the benefits of new technologies while curtailing their abuses. As members of the International Applied Ethics and Technology Association, we focus on these ongoing, overarching issues:

  • Diversity
  • Information Security
  • Privacy
  • Cyber bullying
  • Addiction to technology
  • Professional responsibility
  • Whistleblowing
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Transparency
  • The Internet of things
  • Encryption
  • Digital divide

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