Why technology must now be ethical by design

New and existing applications of technology have proliferated since the pandemic.

From working from home to facial recognition, technology has continually been deployed across all sections of society to address the challenges which will continue to impact our everyday lives in the months and years ahead.

However, it’s also important to consider the various ethical challenges posed alongside the implementation of such technologies, including the misuse of data, spread of misinformation and potential for bias. Failure to do so could lead to far-reaching and long-term consequences for all corners of society.

Governments around the world are already introducing legislation to tackle these ethical issues head on, including the Digital Services Act and the proposed Artificial Intelligence Act. While these policies are welcomed, it’s also vital products and services are designed ethically from the outset. This will help ensure any potential negative outcomes are properly addressed at the start, before they begin to impact wider society.

Addressing ethics at the start

All too often, the impacts of emerging technologies are not properly understood until the product or service is already in use. For example, AI models such as ChatGPT are becoming increasingly popular in wider society, despite growing concerns the technology can exhibit biased behaviour. This can make it harder to mitigate the long-term consequences of the technology, as the impacts have already started playing out.

By considering the potential effects of the product or service at the very beginning of the design process, organisations can ensure any ethical challenges are properly addressed before the development stage. One way of doing this is by introducing Ethical Impact Assessments. These assessments pose a series of questions around the potential ethical implications of the product or service to those involved in the initial stages of design. This allows organisations to identify, discuss and evaluate the potential positive and negative outcomes of the product or service early on, and mitigate against the negative. Ensuring ethics remains an established part of the design process, rather than an afterthought is an important part of tech design and development.

Understanding end-users

As well as considering the potential impacts of the technology in the early stages of design, it’s also important to consult end-users at each stage of the development process. This will help create a better understanding of how the technology will benefit them in the long-term, while also ensuring all sections of society are properly represented by the solution.

Conducting user research at the start of the design process can offer valuable insight into the wider issues that matter to users, allowing the product or service to be tailored to their specific needs. This can contribute towards an improved understanding of how the technology will not only inform the short-term delivery of a specific outcome, but also drive long-term societal change. Once the technology has been developed, it can also be helpful to involve users in any subsequent product testing. This can inform any improvements to the wider user experience, as well as ensuring any emerging ethical challenges are identified and addressed early on.

While it’s important to incorporate user research into the initial stages of the design process, it’s also vital that organisations are open and transparent about how they use the data they accumulate. This could mean educating users on the different types of data being collected and explaining how it will inform the overall outcome of the product or service. This will ensure organisations comply with existing regulations, while also remaining accountable about the way they utilise end-user data.

Assessing the impact

Once the technology has been deployed in wider society, it is vital leaders assess the outcome of the product or service on a long-term basis. This can help organisations understand how the technology is continuing to impact end-users, helping to inform future improvements to products and services.

If any negative outcomes are identified, it’s important these are addressed as quickly as possible in order to mitigate any long-lasting effects. A significant example of this was the recent outlaw of Meta using user data to create personalised ads, following concerns the platform was breaching EU privacy rules. This means everyone involved in the overall design, development and implementation of the technology must take responsibility for any potential negative impacts. This, in turn, will help increase user trust by ensuring organisations remain accountable and transparent about the technology they design.

Final thoughts

As technology continues to advance worldwide, it’s vital the ethical implications of its deployment are not forgotten. By integrating ethics into the design, development and implementation of new and existing products and services, organisations can tackle these challenges head on-ensuring technology is designed ethically from the very beginning.

About the Author

Kevin Macnish is Digital Ethics Consulting Manager at Sopra Steria. Sopra Steria, a European Tech leader recognised for its consulting, digital services and software development, helps its clients drive their digital transformation to obtain tangible and sustainable benefits. It provides end-to-end solutions to make large companies and organisations more competitive by combining in-depth knowledge of a wide range of business sectors and innovative technologies with a fully collaborative approach. Sopra Steria places people at the heart of everything it does and is committed to making the most of digital technology to build a positive future for its clients.

Featured image: ©Gorodenkoff

more insights