5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this series on 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership focused on the importance of ethical foresight. Part 2 and Part 3 introduced two dimensions – Ethical Design and Legal Compliance. Today’s post explores a new dimension – Human Impact.

3: HUMAN IMPACT

According to futurist Gerd Leonhard, “The distinction between what is alive and what is not, between mind and ‘brute’ matter, between human and non-human has already started to blur. The IoT will not remain a separate thing but will go beyond the limits we still know” (Gerd Leonhard on the Societal Impact of IoT, http://brunomarion.com/gerd-leonhard/). This blurring that Leonhard describes will make it increasingly difficult to understand and manage the impact of the IoT on humans.

Creating Products That Help and Don’t Harm

“Programmers and systems engineers will need to feel empowered by ethical considerations to resist release of products that do not meet standards of safety, reliability, privacy and resilience.”  “Voice recognition technology, for example, not only has to be able to tell what was said, but also who said it — no one wants to live in a house that obeys commands from strangers. Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, Google, Responsible Engineering and The Internet of Things, CIO Review

“A proliferation of devices without screens or user interfaces means that consumers may not be provided with adequate privacy notices, and that relatively intimate data may be gathered from them without their knowledge.” Terrell McSweeny, Consumer Protection in the Age of Connected Everything, New York Law School IoT Symposium

“This business evolution will require a new partnership between those who understand and advocate for the user and those who understand and integrate the technology.” Scott A. Nelson and Paul Metaxatos, The Internet of Things Needs Design Not Just Technology, Harvard Business Review

Adding to the challenges involved in mitigating any negative human impact of the IoT, there is considerable temptation to add IoT capability where it might not be appropriate because the technology is so affordable. “The price of turning a dumb device into a smart device will be 10 cents,” says Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure.” “The IoT devices of the future won’t go online to benefit you — you won’t even know that it’s an IoT device,” says Hyppönen. “And you won’t be able to avoid this, you won’t be able to buy devices which aren’t IoT devices, you won’t be able to restrict access to the internet because they won’t be going online through your Wi-Fi. We can’t avoid it, it’s going to happen” (Danny Palmer, Internet of Things security: What happens when every device is smart and you don’t even know it?).

It is not enough for software engineers to make devices that “work” without considering the broader impact of those devices on overall human well-being. IoT connected devices are also expected to “work” for humanity, protecting people from harm and preserving and enhancing quality of life. Increasingly, people expect brands to make ethical choices, SERVING THEM with positive intent and impact. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez says that “the only way for the Internet of Things to reach its full potential for innovation is with the trust of American consumers” (FTC Report on Internet of Things Urges Companies to Adopt Best Practices to Address Consumer Privacy and Security Risks).

Technology that orchestrates people’s lives in ways that benefit them can also harm them. It is our job to reduce/avoid the potential for harm through our design. It is our job to make sure that we and any non-human IoT actors are using “technology power” in an ethical delivery system that protects humans in all respects.  To accomplish that, we will need to monitor for ethical design with human protections built in.

This is Part 4 in a series on 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership. Stay tuned for Part 5.

Contributors:

Gerald Santucci and Rob van Kranenburg served as reviewers and contributed substantial feedback that helped shape this paper’s coherence and usefulness.

About the Author:

Linda Fisher Thornton is an author and leader in the field of ethical thinking and leadership. She helps executives, leaders and groups learn how to lead using the 7-dimensional model described in her book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership. Linda is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Applied Ethics and Global Leadership for the University of Richmond SPCS. Her website is www.LeadinginContext.com.

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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