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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