5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this series introduced 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership and the importance of ethical foresight. Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 explored the dimensions of Ethical Design, Legal Compliance. and Human Impact. Today’s post explores a new dimension – Evolving Ecosystem.

4: EVOLVING ECOSYSTEM

The IoT is evolving organically, like our planet. Like our planet, we must think about it as a complex ecosystem, not a random collection of parts. The ecosystem we call “the Iot” is a rapidly growing collective that includes computers, devices, networks, the internet, data and communications as well as software and product designers, companies, regulators and consumers. All of these players in the IoT ecosystem have the power to change it through their decisions and actions.

The evolving IoT ecosystem is not just a complex tactical and technological system of systems. As Gérald Santucci explains, it is “a new social contract between humans, machines, and the immediate surroundings and everyday objects.” What can happen if we literally “put our daily lives into the hands” of this evolving ecosystem? In a complex ecosystem, the concept of “direct control” is absent. In other words, one action does not directly cause the intended reaction because there are so many actors and variables changing the dynamics at any one time.

The IoT is an evolving GLOBAL NETWORK, not a collection of INTERFACES, NETWORKS AND ENGINEERS. It is a globally connected community, with human and non-human actors and interfaces directing each other’s behavior. That makes it a new type of challenge that needs a high level, values-based response.

“Recent advances in disciplines such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and neuropharmacology entail a ‘dual-use dilemma’ because they promise benefits for human health and welfare yet pose the risk of misuse for hostile purposes”  (MIT, Innovation, Dual Use and Security, Book Overview). Unless ethics is a key factor driving device design and programming, we may not even have the option to keep IoT devices under control. Machine learning adds an “actively thinking and learning” element to the ecosystem, generating additional risks that require ethical design. Even if ethics is a key factor in design, some impacts from the connectedness and interdependence of IoT devices will be outside of our control.

“The danger of the increased vulnerabilities is not being addressed by security workers at the same rate that vendors are devoting time to innovation. Consider how one might perform security monitoring of thousands of medical nanobots in a human body.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

The IoT is A Complex, Organic, Evolving Ecosystem With No “Owner” and No Limits
“From self-driving cars on public roads to self-piloting reusable rockets landing on self-sailing ships, machine intelligence is supporting or entirely taking over ever more complex human activities at an ever increasing pace.” Moral Machine, MIT  

“Any thing – even a human body, if equipped with the right electronic parts – can become part of IoT, so long as it can collect and transmit data through the Internet.”   Marc Jadoul, The IoT, The Next Step in Internet Evolution, Nokia

“In the IoT, everything becomes an access point on the network, which creates new security and privacy challenges. To protect your network, you must understand how that data will move – from device to device, across data centers, and even across borders – and develop security and privacy protocols that will reliably collect the data in compliance with regulatory obligations.” The Internet of Things in the Cognitive Era, IBM

“We can’t treat IoT devices like cattle any more, we have to treat them like pets that live in people’s homes and get very, very angry when they don’t get fed. One day, if we’re not careful, we are going to put JavaScript into, I don’t know, an IoT kettle and light somebody’s house on fire because “undefined” is not a function.” Emily Gorcenski, The Ethics of the Internet of Things, JSConf EU 

How will we keep our smart devices “under control” in this seemingly uncontrollable evolving ecosystem? Here are some key success factors.

  1. We will need to imagine an ethical IoT and govern and guide its evolution accordingly.

“What kind of digital planet do we want? Because we are at a point where there is no turning back, and getting to ethical decisions, values decisions, decisions about democracy, is not something we have talked about enough nor in a way that has had impact… And sticking with the environmental metaphor, we really are at a choice point where we could build a forest, a rich ecosystem, something that supports life. Or we could end up very quickly with a clearcut, where there’s not much of anywhere to live and not much around at all.” Mark Surman, Are We Living Inside an Ethical (and Kind) Machine?, re:publica

  • IoT organizations will have to work together. (Note that even if they do, the challenges will be great).

“The ‘mission’ of the entire IoT ‘system’ was not pre-defined; it is dynamically defined by the demand of the consumer and the response of vendors. Little or no governance exists and current standards are weak. Cooperation and collaboration between vendors is essential for a secure future IoT, and there is no guarantee of success.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • Monitoring and safety innovations will have to keep up with product innovation and the evolution of the IoT ecosystem. (Note that we are using the systems we want to control to manage the security of the IoT, reducing the human ability to impact the ecosystem even further).

“As automation increases in IoT control systems, software and hardware vulnerabilities will also increase.”  “Automated security monitoring will be essential as control systems grow to exceed the capacity of humans to identify and process security logs and other security information.”

Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • Physical security will have to increase its scope and vigilance in response to new risks. (Note that in addition to the risks in the virtual realm, the IoT also creates tangible objects that can be used to harm).

“As self-healing materials and 3D printers gain use in industry, supplychain attacks could introduce malicious effects, especially if new materials and parts are not inspected or tested before use.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • We will need to upgrade our understanding of human rights to govern in this realm. (Note that whatever is decided about robot rights will add to the complexities of the ethics of the IoT).

“Many people assume the rights and protections we enjoy in democratic society are applicable to the IoT realm. Is this not the case? Whether we’re dealing with rights and protections in existing scenarios or new ones, the IoT will be a brave new world. We will need to conceptualize, extend, or re-establish a working notion of individual rights and the public good.” Francine Berman, Toward an Ethics of the Internet of Things

  • We will need to build trust, transparency and accountability into the system

“An important element of loT Good Practice is its supporting mutual trust amongst all the components of loT ecosystems: human, devices, applications, existing institutions and business entities. Trust is boosted by a recognition of personal needs; by transparency in how things are organized-namely in a way that clearly shows that relevant measures have been taken to meet those needs-; and by accountability in ensuring that responsibilities are clear, and if someone responsible (person or organization) fails to live up to what is promise or required, they will be made accountable, thus assuming a principles based front end (“ethical”) and harms based backend (accountable).”

Working Paper: IoT Good Practice Paper, Dynamic Coalition on the Internet of Things (DC-IoT)

We need to program smart devices to think ethically about the ethical implications of their choices, but when we do, will that be enough? It is clear that our currently used protocols are insufficient and that we will have to imagine solutions at a much higher level of complexity. If we don’t, the very ecosystem we want to “control,” will continue to evolve, and by evolving, will determine its own direction. That direction can quickly lead us toward outcomes that are not conducive to healthy lives and communities. Dealing with ecosystem-level questions now, we may have some ability to guide the outcome, but that window is closing fast.

This is Part 5 in the Series “5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership.” Watch for Part 6, scheduled for next week.

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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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

 

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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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

 

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this Series introduced 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership and the importance of Ethical Foresight. Part 2 explored the 1st dimension – Ethical Design. Part 3 discusses Legal Compliance, the 2nd dimension.

2: LEGAL COMPLIANCE

The IoT is taking us into new legal and ethical territory, and it is critical that we understand the potential consequences of our choices. Laws will change as we learn more about the potential of the IoT to cause harm. Along the way, there may be perfectly legal options that can cause dire consequences. For example, many devices, including appliances, that were not originally designed to be connected to the internet or to each other are now being connected. This raises many legal and ethical issues including privacy, security and safety, which are not yet resolved, and the choices we make will have a direct impact on people and society.

Imaginers, creators and implementers of new technologies and products will need to think about the legal and ethical issues that might arise from the use of devices they design during the R&D phase, not just during deployment, when it is too late to build in robust protections for users. Since laws and regulations cannot keep up with the pace of technological innovation and change and rapid increases in device connectivity, self-regulation will be required to fill the gap.

The IoT is Taking Us Into New Legal and Ethical Territory

“Governance theorists are beginning to recognize that ‘objects of governance are only known through attempts to govern them’ 55 and that ‘governance is not a choice between centralization and decentralization. It is about regulating relationships in complex systems.’ 56” OSCE (Organization For Security and Co-Operation in Europe),  Self-regulation, Co-regulation, State Regulation

“IoT devices can quickly generate legal and ethical conundrums that no one currently has any idea how to resolve. Just one example: Should a driverless automobile take every action it can to protect its occupants from harm, even if that means “deliberately” harming other motorists or pedestrians?” AIG, The Internet of Things: Benefits and Risks

“Determining who controls all that data and what is done with it will lead us down some interesting paths.”  Jim Hunter, What Will the Internet Be When it Grows Up?, Techcrunch

The ethical thinking that guides self-regulation must be high level and holistic to address new domains of connectedness between human, animal, planet and machine. “Recent advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning suggest the longstanding dream of being able to converse with animals — in a limited fashion — could become a reality” (Bahar Gholipour, Dogs Can’t Speak Human. Here’s The Tech That Could Change That, NBC News). Microsoft’s “Joppa envisions an ‘AI digital dashboard where we’re really able to put our finger on the pulse of Earth’s natural systems’” (Stephen Schmidt, Artificial intelligence could play a pivotal role in managing and protecting planet’s natural resources, Public Radio International). The ethical realm of the IoT includes new stakeholders (animals and the planet) and stakeholders in new combinations (human-animal-machine and machine-planet-community).

To guide self-regulation efforts by individual actors in the IoT space, clear directives are needed that provide ethical boundaries. Since the IoT knows no geographic boundaries, a global perspective and global guidance are required. There are many resources now available to guide successful self-regulation, developed by global groups and organizations who imagine a successful and ethical IoT. Here are some of the resources available that draw ethical IoT boundaries:

Laws will gradually evolve in response to technology entering new domains of our lives, but we cannot wait for that to happen. Responsible businesses in today’s marketplace are benefitting from ethical brand value and tapping into its power to attract and engage constituents including consumers, employees and partners. They are responding to increasing demands for transparency and accountability. Those IoT actors who apply the emerging and increasingly clear global ethical guidelines are likely to benefit from a powerful and growing trend toward supporting ethical business. In The rise of the conscious consumer: why businesses need to open up (The Guardian) Jessi Baker points out that “In an increasingly open, digital world where authenticity is the buzzword of choice, businesses must keep up with growing demands for ethical behaviour and transparency in everything from employee rights and gender discrimination to the supply chain.” Companies can be innovative and at the same time design and deploy devices that meet increasing legal and ethical expectations.

This is Part 3 in a weekly series on 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership. Part 4 will explore the 3rd dimension.

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.

Click the cover to read a free preview!

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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

 

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is Part 2 in a Series exploring 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership in celebration of IoT Day on April 9th. Part 1 included an Introduction and the importance of Ethical Foresight. Part 2 explores the 1st Ethical Dimension of IoT Leadership: Ethical Design.

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership

1: ETHICAL DESIGN

The IoT offers incredible opportunities for value creation and financial benefit for those who understand the risks, responsibilities and potential rewards. Many innovators are seeing the financial potential and moving to take advantage of the opportunity, seeing the IoT as a potentially unlimited new financial frontier. Making a profit responsibly in the IoT space, however, will require much more than just technological know-how. It will also require a clear understanding of laws and consumer expectations, and sensitivity to the inherent ethical risks and implications.

Ethical Design Requires Awareness and Accountability
“Every connected thing is susceptible to attack or misuse. In September 2016 at DEF CON, one of the world’s largest security conferences, 47 vulnerabilities affecting 23 IoT-enabled items (door locks, wheelchairs, thermostats and more) from 21 manufacturers were disclosed.”
Pew Research Center, The Internet Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?

“Responsibility, transparency, auditability, incorruptibility, predictability, and a tendency to not make innocent victims scream with helpless frustration: all criteria that apply to humans performing social functions; all criteria that must be considered in an algorithm intended to replace human judgment of social functions; all criteria that may not appear in a journal of machine learning considering how an algorithm scales up to more computers.” Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky, The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Intelligence Research Institute

“Some companies are actually still working in the space where they just want to innovate, and they just want to build things, and ship things, and they will deal with the consequences later. But you have to ask yourself: do I want to be responsible for that?  That’s what ethics is all about.”    Emily Gorcenski, The Ethics of the Internet of Things, JSConf EU

The IoT is incredibly useful for human convenience, but since ethics isn’t already in the interface between people, data, devices and networks, ethical design is needed to protect human life, rights, quality of life and privacy. Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, Google Vice President, says, “We are entering an era in which software will make decisions for us that once we made for ourselves.” (Responsible Engineering and The Internet of Things, CIO Review) Dr. Cerf says “I tell my engineers that they have a basic ethical responsibility to build in safety checks and security mechanisms to protect innocent users.” Mark Jafee, CEO of Prelert, adds that “the only way to keep up with this IoT-generated data and gain the hidden insight it holds is with machine learning…systems that can learn from data, rather than follow only explicitly programmed instructions.” (IOT Won’t Work Without Artificial Intelligence, Wired.com)

As we look at the potential of the IoT to make our customers’ lives easier, we should also see the potential for harm – the IoT thinks for us, but lacks ethics until we design it in.” —- Linda Fisher Thornton

If we do not consistently apply ethical design, we will find ourselves in a situation where our advanced technology is harming us. As Ian Bogost explains, “Engineers bear a burden to the public, and their specific expertise as designers and builders of bridges or buildings—or software—emanates from that responsibility” (Ian Bogost, Programmers: Stop Calling Yourselves Engineers, The Atlantic).

By taking positive action in response to the ethical issues of the IoT, software engineers can take the lead in creating an ethical IoT and collectively orchestrate solutions that are ethical, timely, safe and considered essential for daily life.

This is Part 2 in a continuing weekly series about 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership. Part 3 will explore the 2nd dimension.

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.

Click the cover to read a free preview!

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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

 

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is the first in a Series exploring 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership. It is being published in recognition of IoT Day on April 9th.

Introducing 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership

The Internet of Things (IoT) can enhance people’s lives in many new ways, and because of its enormous scale, it will alter our global economy and the way we do business. Unlike the software design projects of the past, working in the IoT takes us into completely uncharted ethical territory. While we are in the process of trying to understand the global challenges and opportunities that the IoT represents, we are using varying definitions of “ethics” and see our responsibilities in ways that vary from simply following laws to harnessing the power of the IoT to serve humanity and the public good.  

The IoT is Connected, Intelligent and Entering Unknown Territory

“A world where everything is connected, and everything is intelligent—that’s where IoT is heading.” Life, the Universe, and The Internet of Things, UMass Amherst, Electrical and Computer Engineering

“The IoT is advancing exponentially. Some even say we’re in the “knee of the curve,” which is the point where advancement happens so rapidly that its potential uses are beyond the reach of speculation.” Atlantic BT, 3 Threats and 3 Benefits of the Internet of Things

While it would be convenient to consider only the financial and legal implications of the IoT, that would not be a sufficient response, since the Iot will potentially directly impact every man, woman and child on the planet. It is an ecosystem-level challenge, and ecosystem-level problems require ecosystem-level thinking and solutions.

Whether serving the public good will become an achievable outcome of the IoT or not depends on the future we imagine and create. Will the IoT just extend the domain where greed and profit dominate, or will it become a space for outstanding ethical innovation and ethical brand value creation? I believe that the latter is possible if responsible actors in the IoT space recognize and seize the opportunity to use their collective design power to imagine and create a better, more connected world.

This paper makes the case for thinking holistically about the ethics of the IoT in ways that will help us find workable solutions for a complex, evolving globally-connected ecosystem of people and things. It proposes a spectrum of 5 important dimensions of the Ethics of IoT that are advocated by leaders in the field and cannot be ignored. Rather than looking at one area of ethical concern at a time, this paper proposes that we think about ethics in a multidimensional way to get a broader view. It is hoped that this holistic definition of the Ethics of IoT will help us collaborate on the various dimensions of responsibility using common terminology, reducing the chances that differences in our global interpretation of ethical action will derail our progress.

The five ethical dimensions explored in this paper are adapted from the 7-dimensional model in my book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.  “Ethics” as applied to The IoT will be broadly defined as: ethical design; legal compliance; protecting human life, rights, quality of life and privacy; being an ethical contributor to the broader IoT Ecosystem; and supporting the public good (designing for safety, well-being and a better life for future generations). We” as applied here will be defined as responsible actors in the IoT space who want to create a better future through ethical design and implementation. A multidimensional approach to the Ethics of IoT is urgently needed if we are to generate a best-case scenario – the infinite possibilities of the IoT combined with high level ethical awareness, concern and action, resulting in a highly functioning system with a positive impact.

Balancing the Promise and the Peril of the IoT
 
“Understanding how to balance the promise of IoT connected devices with potential security challenges will continue to be a mega-trend in the years to come.” Christy Pettey, The IoT Effect: Opportunities and Challenges, Gartner

Improving Ethical Foresight

The power of the IoT lies in the ability to create new technologies that improve people’s lives. Because the IoT is globally connected and based on human-enabled interface, creating those new technologies must be approached thoughtfully. While considering the market potential and creating innovative products, we must also carefully consider the ethical implications.

The IoT Is Vulnerable to Misuse

“I like to think of it as putting the internet where it doesn’t normally belong.”  Emily Gorcenski, The Ethics of the Internet of Things, JSConf EU

 “(A bill was) proposed last February to address security issues with IoT-connected cars. One of the senators who drafted the bill, Sen. Ed Markey stated, “We need the electronic equivalent of seat belts and airbags to keep drivers and their information safe in the 21st century.” Kate Smith, All About Circuits, IoT Security: Risks and Realities

“Embedded devices are often designed to be plugged in and forgotten after a very basic setup process…As a result, any compromise or infection of such devices may go unnoticed by the owner and this presents a unique lure for the remote attackers.”  Symantec, IoT devices being increasingly used for DDoS attacks

Francine Berman (a computer-science professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and longtime expert on computer infrastructure) asks the burning ethical questions about the Internet of Things, “Who’s responsible and who’s accountable, what does it mean to be ethical, and what does it mean to promote the public good? (Kaveh Waddell, The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics, The Atlantic)” Part of the difficulty in answering these questions lies in the complexity of the IoT. It is ever-evolving and expanding, its growth driven by innovators and designers who are not all “working together” in any formal way.

Rob van Kranenburg, founder of the IoT Council, points out that the “IoT is also questioning the nature of security, privacy and safety, and the definition of these terms becomes plural: privacies, securities, safeties as the situation is no longer ported to only individual human identities but to communities of capabilities and resources” and requires defining “what is ‘ethical’ related to those communities.”

We know that the financial potential of the IoT is immense. The challenge is learning how to harness that potential by understanding the needs and expectations of consumers; ensuring that we are designing and developing responsible products that improve people’s lives; and using ethical foresight to anticipate and reduce the risk of negative outcomes. As part of every action and decision, we must anticipate the future doors we may be opening to an ethical pandora’s box.

This is Part 1 of a paper that is being shared as a weekly blog series. Part 2 will explore the 2nd of 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership.

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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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

 

Here's What Isn't Cancelled

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have become aware – as I imagine you may have too – that trying to maintain a sense of normalcy isn’t possible right now. I realized today, as I read yet another event cancellation, that I would be better off focusing on all the things that are NOT cancelled.

If I choose to focus on normalcy, I can lament how many events have been cancelled or how many people are socially isolating in my house who hadn’t planned to be at home full time. If I compare what’s happening now to the normal routine, things look pretty bad.

But if I let go of trying to maintain a sense of normalcy and focus on adapting and just doing the best I can under terrible circumstances, here’s what begins to happen:

  • I notice that the mock cherry in the front yard is in full bloom
  • I am grateful that my next keynote has become a webinar instead of being cancelled
  • I enjoy having time to make french toast for dinner, with the whole house smelling of cinnamon
  • I enjoy game nights with the whole family at home

Slowing down to appreciate what we do have during the pandemic is hard. If we stop trying to “get things back to normal,” we will be better prepared to adapt to the challenge.

Here’s What Isn’t Cancelled:

  • Hope
  • Perseverence
  • Joy
  • Ingenuity
  • Kindness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Creativity
  • Love
  • Humor

I remember when Hurricane Isabel hit us hard in Virginia. Neighbors chatted across fences, and people slowed down to appreciate what they had in spite of the challenge. We were without power for days.

While we are dealing with risks and decisions that we have never faced before in our lifetimes, I still have plenty of things to write in my gratitude journal each night. We have electricity. The weather is improving. In spite of everything, flowers are blooming right on schedule.

The pandemic is a much bigger challenge than Hurricane Isabel and will take much longer to deal with. But there is something we can do. We can take a moment each day to think about the things that really matter – the things that aren’t cancelled.

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Are Best Practices Really Best?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Organizations are facing multiple connected challenges. First, they need to prevent ethical mistakes in a high speed, highly transparent business environment. Second, they need to engage leaders in relevant ethical learning so that the principles “stick” and are used to handle real problems. Third, they need to help leaders apply ethical thinking so they don’t just take “best practices” at face value.

“The ‘supply side’ of ethics — i.e., organizations’ ability to avoid ethical lapses — has never been more challenging.”

Ghassan Khoury and Maria Semykoz, The New Frontier of Business Ethics, Gallup

The important thing to remember is that we are helping people learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Paul Thagard, PhD, a Canadian philisopher and cognitive scientist says that “ethical judgments are often highly emotional, when people express their strong approval or disapproval of various acts.   Whether they are also rational depends on whether the cognitive appraisal that is part of emotion is done well or badly.” (Paul Thagard, PhD, Ethical Thinking Should be Rational AND Emotional, Psychology Today)

Teaching ethical reasoning is not about teaching what one should do in particular circumstances, it is about teaching students how wisely to make very difficult decisions involving ethical considerations where the answers are anything but clear cut.

Robert J. Sternberg, Cornell University, Developing ethical reasoning and/or ethical decision making

If we want to implement ethical decisions, we will need to do our own ethical thinking and not borrow the thinking of others. Approaches considered “best practices” are often used as blueprints by organizations, but that is not always an effective approach when the goal is ethical thinking.

Tony Schwartz, in his HBR article What it Takes to Think Deeply About Complex Problems, reminds us that “managing complexity requires courage ­— the willingness to sit in the discomfort of uncertainty and let its rivers run through us.” He explains that “the best practice is to not overrely on best practices, which typically emerge from our current assumptions and worldview.

Replicating best practices is common since it seems to save organizations quite a bit of time and money. The problem is that the “best practice” that earned one organization a desired result may or may not have been derived using ethical thinking. It can be efficient, cost effective and impactful AND look like an amazing shortcut, but that “best practice” may not honor all of our organization’s values.

We need to do the work to apply ethical values to avoid replicating flawed thinking in our organizations. We can’t skip carefully ethical consideration just because an action is described as a “best practice.” To drive this point home, ask leader groups to run some “industry best practices” through your organization’s values to see how well they hold up.

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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is Part 2 in a Leading in Context blog series sharing information on how to spot misinformation and false narratives. In case you missed it, Part 1 explored the concepts of truth and narrative. In Part 2, we’ll explore how data relates to the truth.

How Does Data Inform the Truth?

“If there is no longer an objective truth to be uncovered in our data or if we are no longer interested in listening to the voice of data that may tell us uncomfortable truths, what is the point of even turning to data?”

Kalev leetaru, Is There Such a Thing as Objective Truth in Data or is it all in the Eye of the Beholder?, Forbes

Data, taken in pieces or without context, can be presented as “truth” but the fragmented picture you will see is only informative in the context of the greater whole. In that sense, data is just as easily used for misinformation and false narrative as it is to give you a clear picture of the truth.

“This kind of viral half-truth is part of the fabric of today’s internet, and the kind of anger it inspired has been turned into a dangerous commodity… (used) by scammers raising money online, and by authoritarian governments to spread hate and fear.”

Adi Robertson, How to Fight Lies, Tricks and Chaos Online, The Verge

“Also, Tromble says, the “sticky thing” about someone’s perceptions—be they true or false—usually involves some ’emotional contact.’ If false claims come wrapped in exciting or agitating contexts, and the subsequent fact checks arrive in sober, academic language, the false claims are ‘stickier.’”

Charles Babington, The Disinformation Age, GW Magazine

Emotional awareness is an important part of evaluating whether or not something is true. We can consider whether the content we’re seeing is specifically designed to activate a deep emotional response and think about why that may be the case. A person wanting to discover objective truth will need to dig in to evaluate the motives and hidden agendas of information sources. That leads me to the second way to spot misinformation and false narrative.

How can you spot a source of misinformation and false narrative?

Sources of misinformation and false narrative will often give you an emotionally-charged and opportunistic spin on a situation and call it the truth. People who question it may be attacked to deflect attention from a hidden motive.

A misinformation provider wants you NOT to question its motives as it shares a piece of information that is not giving you the whole truth. It relies on you wanting to believe that it is true so much that you will not question it.

Misinformation and false narrative rely on raw intimidation power (and not truth power). Look for truth power that stands on its own merits and doesn’t need to attack to deflect attention.

Watch for Part 3, Coming Soon!

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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Sifting through mountains of information, people who want to do the right thing are finding it harder than ever to find the truth. We find ourselves dealing with the challenge of too much information and too little insight. This timely series will explore truth and misinformation. In each post, I will share a different way to spot misinformation and false narratives.

In Part 1, we’ll explore the concepts of truth and narrative.

What is Truth?

Much of what is referred to as truth, is really the narrative of a person or group trying to achieve a particular outcome. This motivated narrative may be leading people to a certain interpretation of the facts while calling it “the truth.”

The objective truth is elusive. To find a more objective truth requires uncertainty and doubt. Without uncertainty, we see an issue with “sureness” and “resolve” based on our own experience. Will our own experience reveal the “whole truth” or does finding the whole truth require something more?

When we see the “truth” only through our own life experience, we miss the vast domain that is the collective human experience. Can we really call this narrow understanding of the world the “truth?” It is, in effect, a self-interested view of the truth, one that will see what it wants to see. We can only accurately say “this is my truth, this is what I see, this is what I think, or this is how I feel.”

Is an objective truth even achievable? Scholars disagree. Some believe that there are no objective moral truths. Others believe that there is a universal truth that transcends the experience of any one individual.

“Our definitions and all the answers we’re looking for are really standing on the quicksand of cultural changes and political theories which are in conflict and contradiction, one with another.”

Ravi Zacharias, The Quest for truth in a post truth culture, Yale University

A person wanting to discover objective truth will have to work at it, using open-mindedness, detachment from preconceived ideas, and an intentional quest. That leads me to the first way to spot misinformation and false narrative.

How can you spot a source of misinformation and false narrative?

Sources of misinformation and false narrative will tell you that you have all the information needed and will discourage you from looking further into the issue.

A source of misinformation or false narrative will want you to respect its authority to do the thinking FOR you, so you will take the “information” at face value.

Creators of misinformation and false narrative will not want you to look beyond the statements made. Their power lies in the reader’s blind trust. In contrast, sources advocating objective truth will encourage you to learn about an issue so that you can see the situation and the value of the proposed solution for yourself.

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Are Ethics and Morals Different?

Labarynth representing ethics and morals

By Linda Fisher Thornton

With my background in Linguistics, I tend to view the divergence of ethics terms (that originally meant the same thing) as a distraction from what we need to know and do. Creating categories and subcategories of ethics may ‘carve out new territory’ or help us understand ethics at a deeper level, but it also puts more perceived distance between leaders and ethical choices.

There are dozens of terms for different types and branches of ethics. Unfortunately, this abundance of ethical terminology causes leaders and managers to experience overload and confusion. We may divide things up into smaller parts to understand them, but to act on them requires a more holistic view.

So let’s dig into the big question – “Are ethics and morals the same thing?” Ethicists and scholars disagree. Some scholars advocate the importance of acknowledging the many different branches of ethics that have been carved out since the terms were originated. I believe that it’s more helpful to remember that ethics and morals originally meant the same thing.

“The Latin ‘moral’ was coined by Cicero to translate ‘ethical’ from Greek philosophy so that at the start the two words were equivalent.”

G. Moran, NYU

We can review peer-reviewed encyclopedia entries of different aspects of ethics, which are helpful for learning, but when we need to make good choices in real life we need a different perspective.

“In contemporary non-technical use, the two terms are more or less interchangeable, though ‘ethics’ has slightly more flavor of theory.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy

Are ethics and morals different? While some may argue that the terms have diverged, we should remember that ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ originally meant the same thing. Remember the origin of the words helps us avoid getting stuck in the terminology quagmire and lets us focus our energy on determining the right thing to do.

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Top Post Series of 2019: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Top Post Series for last year on the Leading in Context Blog this year reflected the challenges of applying ethical thinking and decision-making to complex problems.

This series answers the important question “How do we analyze and understanding the multiple connected variables in a changing context to make responsible choices? Today I’ll share a quote from each post in the series that will give you an overview of the topic.

Here’s the most popular Leading in Context Blog series of 2019 – 

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making  

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 1)

Complex issues just can’t be deconstructed and understood using shallow thinking. The meaningful insights are only found below the surface.

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 2)

“Without seeing the context – a broad and sweeping view of the issue we are discussing or trying to resolve and factors in the environment that affect it – we are just describing or trying to solve a SUBSET of the real issue.”

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 3)

“Complexity has become a way of life. To make ethical decisions, we must embrace it and incorporate it into our thinking processes. That means digging into issues until we understand their multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions.”

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 4)

Treating everyone well means going beyond the superficial level, and beyond token gestures of concern, to offer the same high level of care and concern that we extend to our trusted groups.”

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 5)

“By embracing change, and “trimming our sails” to make incremental adjustments, we can stay in ethical waters as the tides and currents change.” 

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 6)

“Once you do the work to understand the context, you’re never done. Change is continuous. The ripple effect created by economic and social change in one time zone rapidly impacts life in another.”

This timely series includes the practical steps for upgrading ethical decision-making in your board rooms and training rooms this year. 

 

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A Message About Gifts

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It has been a challenging year. This week I reflect on the progress being made (that may not show up in the news headlines) and how we can use our gifts in pursuit of good.

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” 

— Eleanor Roosevelt

This year I noticed people being more empowered to call out and stop unethical practices. I believe that it is up to each of us to use our gifts and talents to effect the kind of change we want to see in the world. 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

—- Anne Frank

I noticed organizations stretching to meet rising expectations for transparency and social impact. We have made progress.

Always remember that our human progress is not defined by the scandals in the news headlines. They are the “what not to do” and a distraction from our more important work. 

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.”

— Vaclay Havel

Always remember that you have gifts and capabilities that you have not yet tapped into that are waiting to be opened and used to build a better world. It’s time to open them.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

― Nelson Mandela

I wish you a wonderful, joyful and hopeful holiday season.

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The Voice of the (Un)Ethical Leader

By Linda Fisher Thornton

There is great variation in how leaders “use their voice” in pursuit of their work. Some use it to engage and empower others, others use it to deflect unwanted observations or to create distance that isolates them from people they don’t want to listen to.

Some leaders may not be aware that how they speak tells us volumes about their ethical awareness and competence. 

When an ethical leader speaks, the tone conveys service and concern for others. 

  • Humble: There were many people who made this happen.
  • Open-Minded: I always listen to learn, even when we disagree
  • Inclusive: I demonstrate respect for everyone.
  • Caring: I am concerned about you and your challenges. I want to help.
  • Service-Oriented: I know I’m here to help you succeed, not the other way around.

When an unethical leader speaks, the tone is noticeably different.

  • Hogging the Credit: It was all because of me.
  • Closed-Minded: If you don’t agree with me, you’re an idiot.
  • Exclusive: I respect people I like.
  • Self-Interested: My needs are what matter most.
  • Lacking Empathy: Your problems are not my concern.

 

Words matter. Be aware of the tone you use when you communicate. People who speak like ethical leaders are more likely to be respected and more likely to be followed. They are more likely to be selected and more likely to be trusted. They are more likely to have a positive impact on others and on the global community. What message is your language sending to others?

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Why It’s Time to Stop Saying We’re “Better Than” Other People

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It’s time to stop telling leaders they will only succeed if they are “better than” the competition. It’s time for business schools to stop telling students that they are “better than” their peers in the class or “better than” students in other programs. It’s time for teachers and religious leaders to stop telling people they can be “better than” everyone else.

Why is the “better than” message so harmful? It focuses on status and power instead of relationships, trust and collaboration, which represent the real currency for success. It sends the message that we have to “beat out” others to succeed, leading people to use either-or-thinking, not higher level systems thinking which is needed for success in a systems world.

The old message “Look to your left, look to your right. One of those people won’t be here by the end of the year” advocates beating people down and throwing them away when they don’t perform, instead of lifting them up and helping them succeed.

Competent leaders and educators aren’t using or teaching this kind of “better than” language because it’s an unethical message. It leads to unwanted behaviors, undue interpersonal tension and unethical competition.

As we move toward an inclusive society that works for all, the message that anyone is “better than” others undermines our progress and perpetuates old paradigms that can be harmful. The only way we should be using “better than” is in terms of our behavior and performance, not in comparing ourselves to other people. Are we better than we were yesterday and the day before? That’s how we will reach the elusive win.

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The End of Ethical Compartmentalization

By Linda Fisher Thornton

That Was Then

What people did in their spare time used to be private, allowing them to assume varying personas in their different roles. Someone could be buttoned up and ethical at work, but make really bad decisions elsewhere. People could choose to think about their lives as made up of separate roles that had separate rules.

This is Now

With the extreme transparency social media provides, multiple personas are discoverable. Incongruent ones are easily identified. Any perceived protection from compartmentalization is erased.

“Moral responsibility requires us to move away from a role-based life game which leads us to compartmentalize and forget who we are and what we value at a significant cost.”

— Cecile, Rozuel, University of Lancaster in Business Ethics

Ethical compartmentalization is not good leadership. Leaders are expected to be authentic, not just “play a role.” And ethics is not something we can “apply only when needed.”

Authenticity and Ethical Values

Authenticity requires that we make ethical choices all the time, not just in certain settings. Our ethical values need to be applied consistently across settings. Otherwise we are only “partly ethical” or “intermittently ethical.”

“Authentic leaders are ethical leaders. They’ve identified their ethical codes, and they never compromise on what they believe to be right and wrong.”               

  Authentic Leadership, Mindtools.com

With the end of any perceived benefits from compartmentalization, our various roles are simply additional places to apply our positive ethical values. Authentic leadership is consistent across responsibilities, roles and settings, and that includes how we apply our ethical values. It’s time to do the work.

“We need to focus on how we can enable leaders to become more authentic, and give them the tools to do so. In this way authentic leaders will be able to create better lives for everyone they serve.”

Bill George, Senior Fellow, Harvard Business School

We need to help leaders learn how to put ethical values into practice in every setting, every time.

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