Why we need to talk about ethics in technology: Waleed Aly

Why we need to talk about ethics in technology: Waleed Aly

Google self-driving car

Ethics cannot be divorced from technological development, according to Waleed Aly.

Speaking at the Above All Human conference in Melbourne this morning the journalist called for ethical engagement in technological innovation.

“There is no such thing really as a change in technology or platform that is simply neutral,” Aly says. 

“There are always ripple effects through society.”

Aly wants to see a broader discussion around the ethical dilemmas raised by technological developments.

“Ethical discussions around technological developments tend to happen in a piecemeal fashion,” Aly says. 

He says approaching the question of ethics at a micro level means looking at a specific piece of technology and then looking at the ethical issues it raises.

“But if you look at technology in a more macro way that leads to broader ethical questions… what are we doing to ourselves as human beings?” he says.  

Aly says the development of driverless cars raises ethical questions that you cannot escape merely through technology.

He says creators of driverless cars need to consider what happens when a collision is impossible to avoid.

At the moment the response is dependent on the driver’s instant reaction.

“But when you have something like a driverless car, and this is now left to software, don’t you have to ask and then answer that question in the course of building the software?” Aly says.

Questions raised by the technology include whether driverless cars should be programmed so they always kill the driver and who should make the decision: Google or the government.

“They are not technical questions but they are ultimately human questions,” says Aly.

Another example is the use of drones in warfare, which Aly says needs to progress beyond “we can do it, let’s do it”.

But Aly says we need to stop and think about what a world with drones in it looks like.

“How does that change our decision-making process? Does that mean we will have more wars? What about the macro question about what it does to the human relationship to killing?” he says. 

According to Aly, too often technological advancement occurs although it is its own justification.

“Whatever technology you are producing and for whatever purpose, there are real ethical questions that are raised and that you have to grapple with. If you don’t you are in dereliction of a serious duty,” he says.

“It is not about asking anti-technology questions.”

Aly says creators of new technology need to be asking and answering those questions before rolling anything out.

“Ask yourself a series of questions about what it is you are about to unleash,” Aly says.

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