Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ethics and Technology – Part 6

This post will end the series on Ethics and Technology. Last week on Lets make sense we discussed a singular portion of Ethics – being authentic. The quickest way for me to separate from someone or lose respect for someone is for them to lie or in some way appear inauthentic. I look for a person’s virtual personae and their real life to have a high level of correlation. 

With the death of my friend Dr. Trent (on a personal note: I was an air force brat and buddy was a FBI brat) I guess this seems a more salient topic. Some years ago Buddy was injured in a automobile accident so he relied heavily on technology to communicate. His mind was a sharp as it ever was he simply had trouble expressing himself. We would hang out and go to go to plays and occasionally solve all of the problems of the world over a meal. After the accident he had trouble expressing himself but was a no less brilliant man provided you gave him enough time to express himself and find the right words. He would often shock me with his ability to regurgitate the information from the medical books he studied in school. Technology allowed him to express that aspect of who he was along with his humor (somewhat dry) with the same ease he did prior to the accident. 

Technology allows us (when used properly) to be more of who we already are. In fact it could be argued that technology can only accent what already exists in a person or can even be used to create an illusion of a person based not on who they are but who they wish to appear to be. So if a person is deceptive in the virtual world or disrespectful – chances are even though they appear civil in the real world given a chance to conduct themselves without some level of accountability they would prove that their true core ethics aligned more properly with the virtual presentation of themselves. 

Technology is nothing more than a tool, no different than a fork – it is an extension of self. Some use this lack as awareness to their own advantage. A classic example of this fraud maybe the lottery or dead relative. Imagine if a person walked up to your door who you never met and said, you have a dead relative in the UK. To get their money what we need you to do is set up a bank account. We will then transfer money into that account. For administrative and handling we will charge Y% as a broker fee, the rest is yours to keep. While some would fall for that most would dismiss as a scam and yet in the virtual world because many do not understand they fall for this con and often end up on federal charges of thief and money laundering. I bring this example up because this is one of many conversations we had as he started using his PC. 

As a person coming up in the information age you have access to a breadth of knowledge that generations before did not have as easy a time getting to meaning you actually know more than your ancestors. Yet, that knowledge does not imply you have the wisdom to use it only the sheer information and this is why you must be careful. You do actually know more even in some cases than the people or businesses you are interacting with – the issue in question is do you have the values and ethics to be able make constructive use of this information to help people as well as show loyalty to your client or friend? 

Let me elaborate:

  • Knowledge is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as (i) expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject, (ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information or (iii) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.
  • Wisdom is knowledge, understanding, experience, discretion, and intuitive understanding, along with a capacity to apply these qualities well towards finding solutions to problems.
  • Information as a concept has a diversity of meanings, from everyday usage to technical settings. Generally speaking, the concept of information is closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation.
  • The Information Age is an idea that the current age will be characterized by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely, and to have instant access to knowledge that would have previously have been difficult or impossible to find. The idea is heavily linked to the concept of a Digital Age or Digital Revolution, and carries the ramifications of a shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based around the manipulation of information. The period is generally said to have begun within 10 years of 1990, with the development of the internet seen as a key part of this change.
  • Morality from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior"
  • Ethics is a word for a philosophy that encompasses proper conduct and good living. It is significantly broader than the common conception of ethics as the analyzing of right and wrong. A central aspect of ethics is "the good life", the life worth living or that is simply satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than moral conduct 

Ethics of technology is a subfield of ethics addressing the ethical questions specific to the Technology Age. Some prominent works of philosopher Hans Jonas are devoted to ethics of technology. Technology itself is incapable of possessing moral or ethical qualities, since "technology" is merely tool making. Thus, "ethics of technology" refers instead to two basic subdivisions.


  • The ethics involved in the development of new technology -- whether it is always, never, or contextually right or wrong to invent and implement a technological innovation.
  • The ethical questions that are exacerbated by the ways in which technology extends or curtails the power of individuals -- how standard ethical questions are changed by the new powers. 

In the former case, ethics of such things as computer security and computer viruses asks whether the very act of innovation is an ethically right or wrong act. Similarly, does a scientist have an ethical obligation to produce or fail to produce a nuclear weapon? What are the ethical questions surrounding the production of technologies that waste or conserve energy and resources? What are the ethical questions surrounding the production of new manufacturing processes that might inhibit employment, or might inflict suffering in the third world?


In the latter case, the ethics of technology quickly break down into the ethics of various human endeavors as they are altered by new technologies. For example, bioethics is now largely consumed with questions that have been exacerbated by the new life-preserving technologies, new cloning technologies, and new technologies for implantation. In law, the right of privacy is being continually attenuated by the emergence of new forms of surveillance and anonymity. The old ethical questions of privacy and free speech are given new shape and urgency in an Internet age. Such tracing devices as RFID, biometric analysis and identification, genetic screening, all take old ethical questions and amplify their import. 

Let me close by sharing some information on various things to be aware of in this new age. This series started with a simple question – has technology outstripped our ethics – my opinion is they have not but in many cases do not see the correlation between real world and virtual worlds to make the connection to see how the situations apply: 

What am I trying to say in all of this – simply practice common sense – the same principles apply regardless of virtual or real. If someone told you that they are 210 and 5 foot and you are looking at them and they are 6 foot and 300 lbs they are lying. Pay attention to the facts and do not talk yourself out of the obvious – do not ignore what you see and trust your gut and instincts. Also remember ask question and request documentation – if they cannot supply it then chances are it is a scam. Also if their words and documentation do not align chances are it is a scam.


I will end with a quote by Maya Angelou – “If someone tells you who they are believe them” – it does not matter whether “real” or “virtual”

Here are the videos referenced in the show

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