Ethics in Tech: A New Resource
New tools from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics aim to help technology companies embed ethical considerations into their workflow and promote the development of ethical products and services.
Financial Support Provided by Omidyar Network
SANTA CLARA, Calif., Aug. 1, 2018— Amid growing debate about their ethical responsibilities, some technology companies are recognizing the urgent need for greater ethical foresight in the development and deployment of their products. Today, Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is releasing new materials to help such companies embed ethical considerations and troubleshooting into their development processes. The materials were funded by a grant from Omidyar Network, the Silicon Valley impact investment firm established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam.
The tools are authored by internationally renowned tech ethicist and Santa Clara University professor Shannon Vallor (recipient of the 2015 World Technology Award for Ethics), in collaboration with Brian Green, director of the Technology Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and Irina Raicu, who directs the center’s Internet Ethics program.
“Those who create products and services that become part of people’s everyday lives have long known that they must do better in considering the long- and short-term ethical implications of their work,” said Raicu. “What they might not have known is how to operationalize that awareness. This project aims to help them get started with a robust set of tools and suggestions for ways to effectively implement them.”
The suite of materials is called Ethics in Technology Practice. It includes a workshop teaching guide, overviews of technology ethics and relevant conceptual frameworks for ethical decision-making, case studies, an ethical toolkit for integrating consideration of ethics throughout product development, a sample workflow integration of the tools, and a list of best practices in technology design and engineering.
For example, the toolkit walks users through methods to conduct “ethical risk sweeping,” or identifying moral potholes ahead; “ethical pre-mortems and post-mortems” — identifying and preventing what are often domino-like systemic failures; case-based analysis; and means of identifying optimal ethical outcomes of a project.
“We liken ethical issues in technology to birds,” said Vallor. “They are varied and easier to spot by people working in groups, rather than alone. And once you are attuned to seeing them, you realize they are ubiquitous.”
“Our team is co-creating solutions to help tech maximize its positive impact and avoid unintended consequences,” said Paula Goldman, global lead of Omidyar Network’s newly-established Tech and Society Solutions Lab. “We funded this work as an experimental intervention with engineering talent in large tech firms because we feel one of the best places to impact future products lies directly in the hands of those writing lines of code."
The materials are available now under a Creative Commons license. Some of them underwent pilot testing in a workshop at X (formerly Google X), a part of Alphabet.
For more information on the Ethics in Technology Practice materials, please go to www.scu.edu/ethics-in-technology-practice.
Omidyar Network's Tech and Society Solutions Lab draws on Omidyar Network’s long-standing belief in the promise of technology to create opportunity and social good, as well as the concern about unintended consequences that can result from technological innovation. The team aims to help technologists prevent, mitigate, and correct societal downsides of technology—and maximize positive impact.
About Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University
Founded in 1986 with a seed grant and initial endowment from Linda and A.C. “Mike” Markkula Jr., the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics brings the traditions of ethical thinking to bear on real world problems. Beyond a full range of programs for the Santa Clara University community, the Center also serves professionals in fields from business to health care, from government to the social sector, providing innovative approaches to problems from fake news to privacy protection. Through its website and international collaborations, the Center brings ethical decision-making resources to the wider world. For more information see www.scu.edu/ethics
About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 9,000 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering; master’s degrees in business, education, counseling psychology, pastoral ministry, and theology; and law degrees and engineering doctoral degrees. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see www.scu.edu
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