Digi­tal ethics: a stra­te­gic issue for chari­ties that will shape our future

Companies are being swept along by something akin to a gold rush – but not everything that glitters is gold (and is of value to society). That is why we need charities to help ethics hold sway in the digital sphere.

No matter whether you are brow­sing the inter­net or making a payment with your credit card, our networ­ked world means that we leave a digi­tal foot­print ever­y­where we go. This incre­a­ses the risk that we will lose a substan­tial amount of privacy, and, by exten­sion, control over our digi­tal iden­tity, too. This is paired with new chal­len­ges on a socie­tal level, such as job losses, incre­a­sing social surveil­lance or fake news and hate speech.

But in whose inte­rests is it to ensure that as many people as possi­ble can bene­fit from digi­ta­li­sa­tion? Who is suffi­ci­ently inde­pen­dent to stand up to the world of busi­ness? And who has access to the finan­cial resour­ces needed for this? Chari­ties! As a matter of urgency, we need invest­ments in projects and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons that will contri­bute to turning digi­ta­li­sa­tion into an oppor­tu­nity. Here are four examples:

Reduce mani­pu­la­tion by incre­a­sing education

Lots of people are worried that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and digi­ta­li­sa­tion will soon do away with their jobs. And as we know, worry­ing never solves anything. We need an educa­tio­nal campaign that will prepare indi­vi­du­als for this and equip them to face the chan­ges ahead, helping them to make the most of their perso­nal free­dom as private indi­vi­du­als, consu­mers and citi­zens. Free, prac­ti­cal educa­tio­nal program­mes for people of all ages and at all levels in society could play a key role here. Program­mes desi­gned for teachers and their clas­ses would also be ideal, as cantons and muni­ci­pa­li­ties do not have the funds avail­able for this.

Reduce discri­mi­na­tion by incre­a­sing diversity

There is no doubt that we will be able to use our voices to accom­plish all kinds of tasks in the future. It is easy, quick, and provi­des great relief for people who struggle with reading and writing. Howe­ver, a study by UNESCO shows that virtual assi­stants like Alexa, Siri and their ilk cement outda­ted clichés about gender roles. We need to incre­ase diver­sity at every level. This would also prevent unde­si­red bias and discri­mi­na­tion in the use of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), which is already a major socie­tal problem, accord­ing to the AI Now Insti­tute at New York University.

Reduce partis­anship by incre­a­sing civil society

The lack of an even play­ing field in the poli­ti­cal sphere puts demo­cracy at risk. Poli­ti­cal parties and autho­ri­ties alike are still getting to grips with the new mecha­nisms of digi­ta­li­sa­tion, rely­ing on compa­nies’ know­ledge as far as regu­la­ti­ons rela­ting to the digi­tal world are concer­ned. There is a lack of poli­ti­cal stake­hol­ders who feel obli­ged to work in the inte­rests of the common good when it comes to topics connec­ted to digi­ta­li­sa­tion, such as data protec­tion, net neutra­lity or e‑IDs. There are some orga­ni­sa­ti­ons in this field, like the Digi­tale Gesell­schaft asso­cia­tion and the Stif­tung für Konsu­men­ten­schutz charity, but they do not have enough resour­ces to really be able to sit at the table.

Reduce envi­ron­men­tal dest­ruc­tion by incre­a­sing sustainability

If digi­tal change is not actively shaped by poli­tics, it will acce­le­rate our use of resour­ces and energy and, in turn, speed up the planet’s dest­ruc­tion. This is the conclu­sion drawn by the German Advi­sory Coun­cil on Global Change (WBGU). A study by TWI2050, an inter­na­tio­nal rese­arch initia­tive, confirms this, refer­ring to a selec­tion of areas such as health, educa­tion, conser­va­tion and climate protec­tion. Digi­ta­li­sa­tion must be aligned with the Sustainable Deve­lo­p­ment Goals, other­wise the problems we already have will simply get worse.

Chari­ties meet all the requi­re­ments for giving civil society a voice and actively play­ing a role in shaping the histo­ric process of change to the bene­fit of the grea­ter good. Howe­ver, people can only make an impact if they under­stand the dyna­mics of data-based busi­ness models, new approa­ches to commu­ni­ca­tion and consu­mer beha­viours as well as the oppor­tu­nities and limits of new tech­no­lo­gies such as big data and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. This is why chari­ties should not just realign their funding focus; they should also invest in their own ethi­cal compass and their employees’ know­ledge. They also need to be aware that the era of constant change has only just been rung in.

Trend­ra­dar Digi­tale Ethik
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Quel­len 

UNESCO: “I’d blush if I could” (2019)

AI Now Insti­tute: “Discri­mi­na­ting Systems. Gender, Race, and Power in AI” (2019)

WBGU: “Unsere gemein­same digi­tale Zukunft” (2019)

TWI2050: “The Digi­tal Revo­lu­tion and Sustainable Deve­lo­p­ment: Oppor­tu­nities and Chal­len­ges” (2019)

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