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, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 explored the dimensions of Ethical Design, Legal Compliance. Human Impact. and Evolving Ecosystem. Part 6 will conclude the series with the final dimension – Public Good.
5: PUBLIC GOOD
Assistive technology will make people lives easier, and it is profitable, but The IoT was meant to do much more than just make money. The problem is that our contributions to the IoT have no inherent morality and no contribution to the public good until we build them in. In addition to having no inherent morality, Gérald Santucci argues that the IoT creates the risk for “objects” to become “subjects” (they get the agency to take decisions) and for (human) subjects to become “objects” (we just behave by adopting and implementing the performance criteria of our objects: efficiency, productivity etc.). A simple example of this is wearing a fitness band that directs our behavior to increase movement and to direct when we should move. In this example, the fitness device is directing human behavior, not the other way around.
The scope of the shift in our role to that of subject is invisible unless we step back and look at it with an ecosystem view. “Things will be able to autonomously manage their transportation, implement fully automated processes and thus optimize logistics; they have to be able to harvest the energy they need, they will configure themselves when exposed to a new environment and show “intelligent/cognitive behavior” when faced with other things and deal seamlessly with unforeseen circumstances; and finally, they might manage their own disassembly and recycling, helping to preserve the environment, at the end of their lifecycle” (Dr. Ovideu Vermesan and Dr. Peter Friess, et. al., Internet of Things, Global Technologies and Societal Trends, Chapter 2) Will we simply become caretakers of the processes they create? Who’s really in charge in this scenario?
If we are able to manage the evolution of the IoT at a high enough level, it has the potential to accelerate our progress toward improving the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In “using IoT to create a future we want” in the report” IoT Policies Toward 2025: Benefitting From the Opportunities” Maarten Botterman points out that “The Sustainable Development Goals that have been agreed by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 represent global norms, and include a clear call for connected technologies to contribute to achieving them. Please note that the SDGs also insist on “inclusive” use of connected resources.”
|The IoT Is A Platform For Advancing The Public Good In the end, pride of engineering must include a deep regard for ethical practices that should guide our actions and our obligations to the society we serve. Vint Cerf, The Ethics of the Internet of Things Ecosystem, The Marconi Society|
“IoT devices placed strategically throughout even the most complex global supply chain can give managers deep, real-time insight into any problems, even before they arise.” The Internet of Things: Benefits and Risks, AIG
In “Harnessing the IoT For Global Development,” the International Telecommunications Union and Cisco partner to make a powerful case for how advances in the IoT can move us forward on a global scale. Three of the areas where they predict IoT will have the highest potential impact include disease containment, agricultural yield and economic prediction.
Connecting the dots using disparate pieces of data collected by IoT devices can help us resolve some of society’s biggest problems. Arafat Kazi, UMass Amherst, describes the higher purpose of the IoT in “Life, The Universe and The Internet of Things: “Ultimately, IoT’s biggest transformative power lies in what it can do for the greater good… Creating new pathways for us to help each other and contribute to the good of humanity—that is IoT’s ultimate goal.”
It is our job to carefully manage our participation in the IoT as it grows so that our contributions can serve the greater good of society, individually and collectively. This means designing for SAFETY, WELL-BEING, and creating a BETTER LIFE for future generations.
Seeing The Whole Ethical Picture
“As cars begin to drive themselves, who should be responsible for accidents? As systems take on more decisions previously made by humans, it will be increasingly challenging to create a framework for responsibility and accountability” (Francine Berman and Vinton G. Cerf, Social and Ethical Behavior in the Internet of Things, Communications of the ACM). We can carefully design our contributions to the IoT so that they actively benefit society and improve the public good. The catch is that to do this well, we will need to understand and carefully manage the ethics of all of the dimensions discussed here – Ethical Design, Legal Compliance, Human Impact, the Evolving Ecosystem and the Greater Good. The table below includes key ethical questions and global protocols for each dimension.
|1 ETHICAL DESIGN |
Think Through Ethical Issues Up Front
Aim For Everyone in the Ecosystem to Win
Design in Safety and Privacy Protection
Protect Devices and Data From Interference/Tampering
“All actors should engage in a strong, active and constructive debate on the implications of the internet of things and its derived big data to raise awareness of the choices to be made.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
“A complex web of stakeholders is forming around IoT products: from users, to businesses, and everyone in between. We design so that there is a win for everybody in this elaborate exchange.” IoT Design Manifesto 1.0, creative industries fund NL
“Privacy by design and default should no longer be regarded as something peculiar. They should become a key selling point of innovative technologies.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
A simple firewall is no longer sufficient. One way to minimize the risk to individuals is to ensure that data can be processed on the device itself (local processing). Where this is not an option, companies should ensure end-to-end encryption is in place to protect the data from unwarranted interference and/or tampering. Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
|2: LEGAL COMPLIANCE|
Ensure Compliance With Laws
Honor the Values Behind the Laws
“Ensure compliance with the data protection and privacy laws in their respective countries, as well as with the internationally agreed privacy principles. Where breaches of the law are discovered, they will seek appropriate enforcement action, either unilaterally or through means of international cooperation.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
“Companies need a mind shift to ensure privacy policies are no longer primarily about protecting them from litigation.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
|3: HUMAN IMPACT|
Protect Human Life, Safety and Well-Being
Protect Human Identity, Privacy and Data
Disclose Data Gathering Practices
Be Transparent/Clear About How Data is Used
“It is not possible to focus solely on the technologies, at the risk of ignoring the human context in which these technologies must work. There are many difficult trade-offs involved — only some of which are technological… The purpose for which technology and applications are developed does not always end up as the sole — or even major — purpose for which they are actually used.” “Strategies to protect privacy must take a range of risks into account from a variety of different sources as well as adapt to local regulations;” Mr. Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, in Foreword of Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development by ITU and Cisco as A CONTRIBUTION TO THE UN BROADBAND COMMISSION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
“Considering that the identifiability and protection of big data already is a major challenge, it is clear that big data derived from internet of things devices makes this challenge many times larger. Therefore, such data should be regarded and treated as personal data.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
“Transparency is key: those who offer internet of things devices should be clear about what data they collect, for what purposes and how long this data is retained. When purchasing an internet of things device or application, proper, sufficient and understandable information should be provided.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
|4: EVOLVING ECOSYSTEM|
Be Trustworthy and Reliable Actors in the Bigger Ecosystem
“More than ten speakers commented on the need for applications of IoT+Big Data+AI to be trusted and “trustworthy” (and how many different steps are needed to foster trust). These include protecting privacy and personal data, enhancing cybersecurity, being transparent about problems, respecting human rights, giving users alternatives if they find one service or application unsatisfactory, “design for safety,” and “design for diversity.” Internet Governance Forum, IGF Best Practice Forum on Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence
“It is a joint responsibility of all actors in society so that the trust in connected systems can be maintained. They should eliminate the out-of-context surprises for customers. “ Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
“IoT devices will have the biggest societal impact where they are used together in larger, inter‐connected, systems. At the macro‐level, two of the areas of greatest IoT development and investment are smart cities – where infrastructure and building systems will improve the efficiency and sustainability of a whole range of urban activities – and smart power and water grids.” Regulation And The Internet of Things, GSR Discussion Paper, ITU
|5: PUBLIC GOOD|
Use The IoT to Improve Society For All
“The emerging IoT paradigm has the potential to create an efficient, effective and secure ecosystem taking advantage of connected devices for managing the major global challenges faced by this, and future generations.” Internet of Things Declaration to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals
“Connecting up devices or robots (whether they are bridges, fridges or widgets) is only a means to an end — the really interesting part arises in terms of what can be done with the data obtained, and the learning outcomes for improving our future.” Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development by ITU and Cisco as a A CONTRIBUTION TO THE UN BROADBAND COMMISSION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
“IoT technologies could make an important contribution to global challenges such as improving public health and quality of life, moderating carbon emissions, and increasing the efficiency of a range of industries across developed and developing economies.” Regulation And The Internet of Things, GSR Discussion Paper, ITU
The IoT is increasingly thinking and evolving in organic ways. To harness its potential for enhancing human life and furthering the public good, and to diminish its potential for systematizing harm, we need to accept the challenge to do the ethical thinking now.
Looking at the Ethics of IoT through different perspectives one at a time, we will never be able to respond quickly enough to the ethical issues generated by its rapid evolution. We can choose, instead, to see the dimensions of the ethical picture as a whole. That broad picture will help us more easily predict where problems will happen in the future and create ethical solutions. It will assist us in global discussions about protocols, processes and laws.
Many organizations are working together to define AI ethics to ensure that it contributes to overall human well-being. The IoT can transform HUMANITY, evolving into a powerful ECOSYSTEM that advances the global ECONOMY and enables and supports the PUBLIC GOOD. These desired results will need to be achieved with a keen awareness of the ethical issues and a relentless commitment to ethical thinking and choices. For advances in technology to improve our lives they must be matched with corresponding rapid advances in ethical design. Only then will the results be positive and lasting.
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.