Ethics and Technology: Why Is It So Important That We Talk About It?

We consider the ethics of changing the earth’s temperature levels, driverless cars and the increasing use of robots. It’s time we discuss these topics and the effect of ethics and technology on society and the environment.

Robot hand technology

What are the issues of Ethics and Technology?

Whilst science brings about so many exciting technological advancements in our society, it can also create ethical dilemmas. With the rise of experimentation with robots, artificial intelligence and genetically modifying DNA, it’s difficult to not fall down the rabbit hole of philosophical debates. Are we playing God? Are we messing with things we shouldn’t and taking scientific technological innovations too far? How do we even define the ethics of tech? Who even gets to define it? We tell all in this post about ethics and technology.

There are constant advances happening regularly in the fields of nuclear technology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence. All of which are controversial in their own way, with more and more people being concerned about the potential ramifications and future implications of such technology. For example, when it comes to nuclear technology, how can we ensure that nuclear waste is correctly disposed of and that no nuclear emissions will impact citizens? If you take a look at Chernobyl or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki you can not only see the health issues that arise such as death or cancer but also the intergenerational problems like genetic impairment. Effects that we are still seeing the results of today.

Whilst it offers lower costs and pollution levels amongst other potential benefits, if the negatives were to come to fruition, the results would be catastrophic. Which is the thing about ethics and technology – it’s determining whether a type of technology should be permitted that high level of power which can instigate dramatic change. There are advantages and disadvantages. Not to mention high risks that scientists, politicians, other people in power and the public should determine its worth. There’s also another argument it can raise. Is it even necessary? For example, do we really need to choose the eye colour of our children? Or is being able to select the genes of our children the way of the future?

It’s an incredibly convoluted topic that spans out into a variety of sectors – including how technology is changing the way we study. We dive into three of the many moral dilemmas happening in technology right now.

View of Earth From Space

Ethics and Technology Topic #1: Should we use Geoengineering to Fight Climate Change?

It’s undeniable that drastic action needs to be undertaken in our fight against climate change. The level of urgency and anxiety that is felt across the board, particularly with the younger generations is as serious as it’s ever been. With this high level of desperation, it begs the ethical question – How far should we go to save the planet? What if switching to renewable energy, reducing our fossil fuels emissions and making significant changes to a greener lifestyle isn’t enough? Welcome to geoengineering.

What is it exactly? Well, in its simplest terms, it’s using technology to alter our environment to prevent climate change. Some may call it humans messing with mother nature. But to be fair, we’ve been interfering with the natural world ever since we’ve been here. There’s a variety of suggestions on how to utilise this type of technology. You may have heard of controversial ideas such as SCoPEx, a solar geoengineering proposition based on spraying the stratosphere with substances to deflect the sun’s rays. Yes, it may cool down the earth’s temperature, but these substances contain mostly sulphur which is a pollutant.

You can already see the ethical debate that would spark from this and how this would cause panic. It’s hard to not get caught up in the scary side of it when you’ve got post-apocalyptic films like Snowpiercer hypothetically demonstrating how geoengineering can go very wrong. It’s not ridiculous to assume this could be a reality. It raises warranted arguments such as, what if we cause irreversible damage and it all backfires? There’s a whole can of worms that can be opened with this one.

Ethical dilemmas are rooted in fear and misunderstanding. If there isn’t successful communication between scientists and the general-public, there will always be controversy around geoengineering. Disagreements on how to tackle climate change will continue to exist but one thing’s for sure, climate change is happening because of us and we have a complete and utter responsibility to fix the damage. It’s just a matter of how we’re going to do it.

Touching screen in driverless car
Instagram | @waymo

Ethics and Technology Topic #2: Should We Have Driverless Cars?

In the not so distant future, we will be having driverless cars sharing our roads with us. Companies such as Tesla, Google’s Waymo, Toyota and Honda (to name a few) have already been testing and trialling fully autonomous vehicles for years. Combining the use of high-resolution cameras and Lidar (a way to measure distances), these cars are able to estimate the distance from objects around them such as by keeping a safe distance behind the car in front. It can follow a programmed route, stay alert and won’t make human errors such as ones drivers make when driving intoxicated. Imagine being able to have a nap, read or just taking in the sights around you on those long commutes…

There’s quite a lot of evidence that it would make our roads safer. Think of the independence it can offer to those who may not be able to drive due to physical disabilities. However, it will take a lot for something like this to gain public trust because of the ethical dilemmas it presents. How will it adapt to different weather scenarios? How will it react to certain situations? It needs to be able to determine the potential outcomes, make a judgement and perform the task in a split second. How will it distinguish between a human and a car? What if one day a pedestrian makes a last-minute decision to cross the road when it’s not a red light. How long will it take for the car to process this occurrence and decide what to do?

When driving, you are putting all your trust into those around you to make the right decision. It’s a risk we take every time we step into our cars without even realising. How can we not only trust a machine to always make the correct decision but also trust how it will react when someone else makes a bad one? There are various ethical and complicated issues with this technology, but it’s exciting to see what developments will happen next in this field.

robot girl lil miquela
Instagram | @lilmiquela

Ethics and Technology Topic #3: Should we have robots?

You may as well open up the floodgates now because when it comes to ethical debates, robots take first place. Several scenarios referencing sci-fi action films like I, Robot or the Terminator series (to name a few) are probably crossing your mind right now. The typical what happens if robots take over the world situation. What if they suddenly develop a conscience, become like us and take our jobs? Whilst there’s a lot of hysteria surrounding it and Hollywood amps it up, there are warranted ethical fears for it.

There are around 3 million industrial robots in the world (including those in the sex technology industry). And Oxford Economics estimates that robots will displace 20 million workers around the world. There’s even artificial skin being created for robots to help improve their awareness and make their experience as close to a humans’ as possible. Whilst this is an exciting development because it means that it’ll improve a robots’ sensitivity to its surroundings and make better judgements, it also raises the issue that there is already a high unemployment rate amongst humans that needs to be attended to. Shouldn’t we be focused on improving that situation rather than spending money on creating a sub-human android race?

There’s this huge fascination with robots becoming like us, surely you’ve all heard of the rise of the sex robot? Or artificial intelligence being used to offer companionship? Well, when there’s a cgi robot music influencer known as Lil Miquela. It has over 2.2 million followers! There is also a social robot called Sophia who was given citizenship in Saudi Arabia and is the only non-human to have a United Nations title…You can see through photos how the line between robot and human blurs in some areas. It’s a complicated and touchy subject for many. Increased productivity and accuracy is important but most would agree it shouldn’t affect the opportunities offered for humans.