Digital Deception: Unethical Sleight of Hand

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Things are not always as they seem. Technology has advanced to the point that we can’t be sure whether or not what we’re seeing is real. There are many new ways that bad actors are using digital sleight of hand to trick us. And the list is growing.

It will take a healthy dose of skepticism, critical observation and research skills to find out if what we see is as it appears. Educate yourself and your teams about these methods of trickery and how to spot them:

Altered Photos

Photos may have had people (or faces) added or removed, backgrounds changed, or other alterations made.

5 strategies to identify doctored images, Serena O’Sullivan, Multimedia Journalism

Fake news, hoax images: How to spot a digitally altered photo from the real deal, Belinda Smith,
ABC Science

This is How You Can Tell if an Image has Been Photoshopped, Alicia Prince, LifeHack

How to Use Google Reverse Image Search to Fact-Check Images, CommonSense.org

Altered Videos

Artificial intelligence can be used to make people appear to say things they didn’t say, or to remove critical elements of the context around what they said.

Is That Video Real?, AJ Willingham, CNN

How to Spot Deep Fake Videos – 15 Signs to Watch For, Alison Grace Johansen, Norton

How to spot a fake viral video, James Vincent, The Verge

Deep Fake “People”

Some people we see are images of realistic “people” created with artificial intelligence, or are created with parts from real photos of multiple people.

These Videos Tell the Scary Story of How Far AI Has Come, Kelsey Piper, Vox

Thispersondoesnotexist.com Uses AI to Generate Endless Fake Faces, James Vincent, The Verge

Dating apps need women. Advertisers need diversity. AI companies offer a solution: Fake people, Drew Harwell, Washington Post

The Good and Bad News

The good news is that we can use artificial intelligence to detect fake videos and altered photos. The bad news is that we also have to overcome our natural tendencies to believe things we see that aren’t true.

Since we have a very human tendency to believe what isn’t true, to avoid sharing fake sources we’ll need to educate ourselves and our teams about these forms of digital sleight of hand and how to spot them.

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

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Top Post Series of 2020: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Top Post Series for last year on the Leading in Context Blog reflected the ethical challenges of dealing with misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Truth and Misinformation: How To Spot False Narratives

This series addressed the fine points of how to tell the difference between a false narrative and a message that is true. Here’s a highlight quote from each post in the series that provides an overview.

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

“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.”

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

“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.”

Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 3)

Misinformation relies on people having an emotional reaction and immediately sharing information with others without taking the time to evaluate its credibility.

It is clearly our job to stay literate as misinformation becomes more sophisticated and harder to spot. Use these insights to improve your awareness and your ability to spot false narratives.

Note: The second most popular Leading in Context Blog series of 2020 was: 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership .

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

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Top 10 2020: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 individual posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2020, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these new topics that readers accessed most frequently.

#1 10 Leadership Strategies For Thriving in 2021

#2 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Isolation

#3 Pluralism: 9 Elements Required For Ethical Leadership

#4 Human Leadership is the Leadership We Need

#5 10 Tricky Questions About Ethical Leadership Answered

#6 10 Quotes to Inspire Leaders in Divisive Times

#7 Leading With Values During the Pandemic

#8 Ignoring Toxic Leadership is Not Worth the Tradeoffs

#9 Beliefs are Complicated

#10 Are We Focusing on Employee Engagement Metrics (And Missing the Point)?

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2020, it would be Ethical Leadership in Divisive Times. This theme reflects our collective struggles as we dealt with acts of racism, conspiracy theories, and blatent disregard for safety measures that were supposed to protect us all during a raging pandemic.

Which post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about, comment to share your idea!

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

© 2009-2021 Leading in Context® LLC

Pandemic Leadership: 3 Questions To Ask in the New Year

What will make us successful in the new year?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Each year I raise questions that help leaders stay current as ethical expectations change. Here are three new questions to ponder as we head into a New Year. These are important questions about our ethical intentions, actions and impact that will help guide our choices in the coming year.

  1. What do employees want that would increase their engagement and improve their experience? If we know, why aren’t we doing it? What could we change that would make it possible?
  2. What have we learned during the pandemic that should stay ‘top of mind’ as we head into 2021? How can we leverage that awareness to benefit us and our constituents?
  3. What would it take to emerge from the global pandemic with our values more closely integrated with our practices, products and culture? Ethical integration is a trend that is providing organizations with an edge in challenging times.

As ethical expectations continue to increase, the answers to these questions will help us close the gaps between our current intentions, actions and impact, and what our constituents expect of us.

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

© 2009-2021 Leading in Context® LLC

Perspectives on a Future With COVID-19

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Due to the uncertainty and constant change we’re experiencing during the pandemic, every organization should be considering how to adapt to multiple COVID-19 scenarios. Global futurists have already provided us with a variety of possible global scenarios to use in our planning.

Based on data and global input, these robust scenarios will help us prepare for foreseeable outcomes. While we can’t “plan” in the traditional sense, we can imagine possible futures and how the work we do will be impacted by them.

Each organization on the list below provides a unique perspective on possible futures with COVID-19. The formats include a video overview, map and reports. Review these scenarios with your teams and answer the critical questions that follow.

Scenarios For a Future With COVID-19:

Scenarios Video, Institute For the Future

Pandemic Map, Institute For the Future

COVID-19 Scenarios, The Millennium Project

How COVID-19 is Changing the World: A Statistical Perspective, United Nations Statistics Division

Ask your team to help you answer the following questions:

  • How will we need to reimagine what we consider to be our “success” in each scenario?
  • How can we adapt our work to thrive in each possible scenario?
  • Where are our greatest risks and what can we do now to reduce them?

We could guess what’s going to happen, but we don’t need to. Hard-working global futurists have already done the work. Let’s use what they’ve learned to help us navigate the coming year.

10 Leadership Strategies For Thriving in 2021

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We are already at the end of a challenging year. So much of it has been a blur as we’ve scrambled to reinvent our work and daily habits to adapt to a persistent global pandemic. We are heading into 2021 knowing that our best-laid plans will be quickly undone without warning. How do we survive and thrive in such a risky and unpredictable environment?

“Simply put, we are wondering how to go about restarting the economy; repairing what was broken; and preparing ourselves to cope with a host of urgent social, environmental, demographic, and economic troubles.”

Blair Sheppard, Daria Zarubina, and Alexis Jenkins, Adapting to a New World, s+b

Leadership expectations have changed during the pandemic. During isolation, people have been scrutinizing the ripple effects of good and bad leadership decisions.

The good news is that we’ve learned some things as we navigated our challenges this year. Today I’m sharing 10 Leadership Strategies for Thriving in 2021 that span many different leadership roles. Implementing all of them well can propel us forward in the current high-visibility, high-stakes environment.

10 Leadership Strategies For Thriving in 2021

Our implementation of each of these 10 Leadership Strategies will be closely watched by constituents in the coming year. Addressing each of them carefully and plugging any gaps will prepare us for our best chance of success as we head into 2021.

1. Clearly Define Ethics to Guide Company-Wide Decisions

Tell people how you’ll be making ethical decisions. Don’t leave the process to chance.

“Great leaders are… defining the firm’s values concisely, so people have the clarity and guidelines to make decisions.”

Jane Stevenson in THE COVID-19 LEADERSHIP GUIDE, Korn-Ferry

2. Prioritize What Employees Need Most

Focus on what your employees need. They are the ones keeping the organization afloat and they need your support.

“It’s time for leaders to reevaluate how they are addressing culture, providing support to employees during the pandemic, and refining their strategies to retain employees in the new year.”

Marcel Schwantes, New Survey: What Leaders Must Do to Adapt and Succeed in 2021, Inc.

3. Run More Unusual “What-If” Cases

Think beyond expected scenarios to what else could happen. We’ve learned this year that ‘standard scenarios’ don’t help us navigate rapidly changing situations.

“While most business plans include typical financially related ‘what if’ scenarios, leaders should consider expanding it to include unusual ones.”

Tom Himmer, How to Develop a Business Plan for 2021, The Business Journals

4. Put Health and Safety First

Make sure that health and safety take priority over money in organizational decision making.

“The coronavirus has created a humanitarian crisis, becoming a serious threat to the most vulnerable populations in every community. Protecting the health and safety of employees, partners, and communities will be job one for leaders around the world during the coming months.”

THE COVID-19 LEADERSHIP GUIDE, Korn-Ferry

5. Keep Priorities Crystal Clear

Share the top priorities of the organization and ask everyone to help achieve them.

“Disruptions inevitably lead to an overload of sometimes-contradictory information. In the worst cases, employees are being given unclear or incoherent priorities. That’s why a crystal-clear set of priorities matters in times of upheaval, but is so hard to achieve.”

Mary Mesaglio, Gartner, 4 Actions to Be a Strong Leader During COVID-19 Disruption, Gartner

6. Create a Culture of Reciprocal Care

Build a people-friendly culture where people feel safe and protected.

“Cultivate a culture of reciprocal care where every person matters and each person’s welfare and dignity is respected and supported.”

Psychology Professor Laura Knouse and Leadership Studies Professor Gill Hickman, How Leaders Can Adapt in a COVID-19 World, UR Now

7. Get Employees Involved in Company Decisions

Open up decision making to the people who know the work challenges.

“Your employees want to feel like they have a voice in major company decisions, including what their future work arrangements might look like.”

Nicole Fallen, 6 Tips for Adapting Your Leadership Style in the Post-COVID World, US Chamber of Commerce

8. Exceed Customer Expectations

Aim higher. Doing what people expect you to do won’t be enough when other organizations are doing much more.

“How will my company adapt our resources to address customers’ current and future needs? What are coverage plans for servicing customers? The strongest leaders are determining how they can add more value and consistently over deliver.”

Sam Reese, Planning for 2021: 5 Key Questions Leaders Are Asking, Vistage

9. Be Willing To Reverse or Adapt Decisions

Show that new information and guidance leads to new decisions. Be willing to adapt decisions as things change.

“The emerging approach recognizes that in fast-changing environments, decisions often need to be reversed or adapted, and that changing course in response to new information is a strength, not a weakness.”

Jennifer Jordan, Michael Wade, and Elizabeth Teracino, Every Leader Needs to Navigate These 7 Tensions, Harvard Business Review

10. Integrate Brand, Culture and Ethics

Align your message and your actions. Gaps are easy to see and they damage your brand.

“A disconnect between what your organization values on the inside and how it is perceived on the outside can damage customer relationships. Customers have the ability—and the proclivity—to see if you are actually operating the way you say you are.” “Top leaders of the organization must take responsibility for driving alignment.”

Denise Lee Yohn, Want a Great Brand? Build a Great Culture, SHRM

Thriving in 2021 will require applying these 10 Leadership Strategies and continuing to adapt to the changing landscape of what “good leadership” means during COVID-19. We will need to focus on clear communication and finding ways to add value while honoring ethics, transparency, and trust.

A COVID-19 Leadership Reset: Moving Beyond Paradox

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It’s been a tough year for everyone, and much of the strain has fallen on leaders. They have had much more to think about and juggle than in a typical year, and the stakes have been much higher.

Today I’m sharing a collection of curated resources that will help leaders achieve a leadership reset for adapting to COVID-19. Notice the theme of moving beyond paradox – accepting (things as they are) and reinventing (for the future).

As you review the leadership resources below, look for two or three insights that will help you adapt your leadership to the realities of the lingering pandemic.

COVID-19 Leadership Resources

Leadership in the Time of COVID-19, Forbes

6 Tips for Adapting Your Leadership Style in the Post-COVID World, US Chamber of Commerce

The Paradox of Leadership After COVID-19, SHRM

How Leaders Can Adapt in a COVID-19 World, UR Now

Effectively Leading Through COVID-19: Leader Toolkit, Astra Zenaca

4 Actions to Be a Strong Leader During COVID-19 Disruption, Gartner

Leadership During COVID-19: Resources For Times of Uncertainty, CCL

Reset Your Organization For a Post COVID Future, CCL

Human Capital Trends 2020 (Including Paradox as the Way Forward), Deloitte

Returning to Work in the Future of Work: Embracing purpose, potential, perspective, and possibility during COVID-19, Deloitte

Your constituents are counting on you to help them through a difficult time as you manage your own stress, worry and fatigue. Use these resources to identify two to three things you can do differently or better to reset your leadership.

10 COVID-19 Trends: Our Inner Space

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It seems that we’re all getting more in touch with our “inner space” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The extensive time in isolation has given us the time and opportunity to face our truths – our beliefs, our impact and our choices.

Here are 10 trends we’re seeing during COVID-19 that show better self-awareness, other-awareness and moral awareness.

  1. We’re more aware of the importance of science in our lives
  2. We’re more aware (in our households, families and workplaces) that we are “all in this together” and each decision we make impacts everyone else in the group
  3. We’re more aware of how our actions (or inactions) can harm others
  4. We’re more aware of the importance of moral awareness in leadership
  5. We’re more aware of societal economic disparities
  6. We’re more aware of societal racial disparities
  7. We’re more aware of our global connectedness
  8. We’re more aware of what our travel lifestyle does to the planet
  9. We’re more aware of the risks others take for our benefit and well-being
  10. We’re more aware of the importance of taking responsibility for our actions, even under the most difficult and inconvenient circumstances

In my lifetime, I have not seen a time when we have had to come face-to-face with our own beliefs the same way we are having to now. Poor thinking is literally a health risk in these challenging times when failing to wear a mask at the wrong time can lead to illness or death.

Nancy Gibbs, Harvard Kennedy School, says about the impact of the pandemic on our thinking and leadership: “This is real. This has been a moral autopsy. Look for the common humanity. Look for the complexity, get past attributing bad motives to the ‘other side.'”

While it’s always easier to criticize others than to face our own limitations, it’s our own thinking and actions we should be examining now.

5 Ways to Avoid Opinions That Lack Insight and Understanding

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Lately we’ve been seeing too much content that is not grounded in understanding. Some of it is intentionally misleading and some of it is well-intentioned but misinformed.

What this means is that we have to learn how to recognize misinformation, but also, and even more importantly, carefully tend how we convey our own opinions.

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

― Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man

Before sharing your opinion, use the questions in this Self-Check; make sure you are on track to sharing your opinion in a way that leads to insight and understanding.

Opinion Self-Check

  1. Do I get angry when I think about this?
    • Anger clouds our judgment and bypasses our moral checks
    • If it makes you angry, slow down
  2. Have I researched the issue using multiple reputable sources?
    • Spreading misinformation is ethically problematic
    • Do your research first
  3. Have I thought it through before expressing an opinion?
    • Speaking without thinking is a recipe for disaster
    • Think about the issue and how your opinion could be perceived by others
  4. Have I listened to what a diverse group of voices is saying on the subject?
    • Our social media feed will share content that agrees with what we already believe, entrenching us in a narrow perspective
    • Seek out differing opinions from people and groups before you make up your mind on the issue
  5. Have I stayed open to changing my mind?
    • A closed mind isn’t going to change as the world changes
    • Stay open to changing your opinion as you learn more and reflect on the issue

As Clara Barton famously said, we “cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind.”

Human Leadership is the Leadership We Need

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As we struggle with compounding challenges around the world, people are more and more frequently seeking information about human or humane leadership. Why is the topic so timely? I believe it’s critical now because in a crisis we need a leader who can make people feel safe, respected and protected.

Here are some inspiring quotes about important elements of human leadership:

“Human leadership is grounded in self-respect and unconditional love. It comprehends and honors all people’s equal right to equity, dignity and integrity. It recognizes all people for who they are, accepts their unique contribution, treats them with respect and recognizes their value.” 

Sesil Pir, Human Leadership: What It Looks Like, And Why We Need It In The 21st Century, Forbes

As our understanding of what “good leadership” means continues to change, we are incorporating more of what it means to be human into the ways we lead.

“Businesses have started to treat employees like human beings, rather than workers whose only relevant wishes are company related.”

Daniel Ross, Six Ways Leaders Can Humanize an Organization, SHRM’s Executive Network, HR People + Strategy

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”

— John Buchan

Being human with others and leading them with zeal won’t be enough. Our leadership must demonstrate the highest character.

“Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character.”

— Lewis H. Lapham

“Humans will probably always need the help of especially gifted moral leaders in order to extend the bonds of caring and trust beyond the easy range of the family and the face-to-face community. Such bonds have become essential to the future of humanity.”

—Paul R. Lawrence, Driven To Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership

Ethics is at its heart about treating other people well. Human leadership is based on essential ethical principles, with ethics treated as central, not as an afterthought.

Ethical principles help us bring out people’s best and create a positive environment, and when they are central to our thoughts, words, and actions we can nurture a workspace that is human-friendly.

Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Isolation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Some people may think that the change we are experiencing as a result of COVID-19 is a temporary inconvenience, but it’s much more than that. It’s a wake-up call that we have been living too close to the edge, rushing through precious moments. We have been postponing sustainable practices that can contribute to our wellness and the well-being of the planet. Now that the pandemic has slowed the clock on the daily rush hour and frequent flyer miles, we can see what clean air looks like. Our leadership responsibility, like the air above our cities, is clear.

During a pandemic, successful leaders spend time noticing, appreciating, encouraging, focusing and getting comfortable with leaning and leading into the unknown.

Noticing:

We need to hear the sound of chirping birds,

and notice the gradual opening of summer flowers.

We need to notice neighbors caring about each other,

finding ways to reach out,

and helping each other through challenging times.

Appreciating:

We can appreciate simple things,

like time with each other,

or another day of being well (or getting well).

We can be grateful for those who sacrifice and risk so we can stay well,

and for businesses of all sizes finding new ways of delivering goods and

services to help us through difficult times.

Encouraging:

We can support and encourage each other

because work and life have become more challenging,

and online classes bring additional hurdles to overcome.

Helping each other helps us get through it,

as we change the ways we work and live.

Focusing:

We can stay focused on positive outcomes,

in spite of the continual barrage of bad news that each day brings.

When there is less structure in a work-from-home scenario,

and being an essential worker brings so many risks,

it’s easy to become distracted and fearful.

With so many challenges we must overcome,

we must intentionally focus our time and efforts

on the positive outcomes we’re working toward.

Leaning Into the Unknown:

It takes courage to keep getting up and facing the unknown,

when we don’t know how long this will last.

We don’t know whether or not we will get sick,

and if we do, whether or not we will get well.

Each day is precious.

Leading Into the Unknown:

Leading during a pandemic is moving beyond self-preservation

to guide others to safety.

It’s putting our own mask on first and then assisting others.

While we find our way through this unknown space,

our leadership will determine the outcome for others.

We need to overcome our own fear and shift into sense-making

so that we can guide others.

As messages and data sources conflict, we need to dig deeper

to understand what’s really happening,

and determine the best way forward.

That will be the only way to make sure

that the outcome for us and for others is positive.

What I hope is that we take this new fully-present comfort-with-the-unknown that we are learning with us for the rest of our lives, and when the threat of the pandemic has waned, that we continue to apply it in our leadership as if every day mattered.

Leaders: Manage Job Loss During COVID-19 With Care

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I was asked to weigh in on several important questions about the economy and job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic for an article about unemployment that appeared at WalletHub.com.

Leaders may feel that they are somewhat powerless to help when people are laid off. There is a sense that their options are limited by the constraints of the situation and the business’s current economic challenges. I believe, though, that even when job loss or reduction in work hours is inevitable, there are still things leaders can do to help meet people’s deepest human needs.

“Those who find themselves unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic need to be treated with respect and allowed to maintain a sense of personal dignity...Leaders can acknowledge that what people are experiencing is devastating for them and their families.”

— Linda Fisher Thornton

Even if jobs are no longer available, leaders can offer respect, care and support. Those important leadership roles can be extended at no financial cost and they make a significant difference for the people impacted by COVID-19 related job loss.

Leaders can handle any job loss or reduction in hours in ways that help people retain their dignity and regain their footing during difficult times.

To learn more about what leaders can do to support people who have lost jobs during COVID-19, read my advice in the article Cities with the Biggest Growth in Unemployment Due to COVID-19 by Adam McCann, Financial Writer at WalletHub.com.

Companies Doing Good in Bad Times

By Linda Fisher Thornton

A pandemic is an event that happens to all of us. All our plans are scrapped and we have to reinvent ourselves in real time, with others still depending on us for services. Protests, as they should, have a profound impact on all of us. Dealing with these situations is the ultimate leadership challenge.

I am grateful to see so many businesses sharing resources and ideas freely and finding a way to do some good for others during this challenging time. Our shared crises can only be managed effectively with everyone pulling together to make good choices.

Some people approach the challenge of leading in bad times from the point of self-interest, trying to benefit from the misfortune of others. They may focus on hoarding critical supplies and price gouging as they take advantage of the situation.

Ethical leaders, in contrast, think about their responsibility to others at a higher level and for the longer term. Companies that put the greater good ahead of profits and “business as usual” are inspiring all of us.

George Floyd’s tragic murder during the pandemic is sparking companies to take a stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, including some companies who have already taken steps to help others get through the pandemic.

Shana Lebowitz noted in Business Insider that the most effective responses to George Floyd’s death “confronted discomfort head on, and invited difficult conversations. And they outlined concrete plans for cultivating diversity and inclusion, both in the workplace and in the US more generally.”

We are leading in a time when how we use our voice matters a great deal. I hope that these examples of companies taking a stand for good will prompt you to consider how you can amplify your leadership by doing good in bad times.

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 6)

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

Global Protocols

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


Guiding Documents

“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

Global Protocols

Ensure Compliance With Laws
Honor the Values Behind the Laws
 

Guiding Documents

“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

Global Protocols

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


Guiding Documents  

“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

Global Protocols

Be Trustworthy and Reliable Actors in the Bigger Ecosystem  

Guiding Documents

“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

Global Protocols

Use The IoT to Improve Society For All  

Guiding Documents

“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.

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.

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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