Mapping the moral future of ICTs

Novel technologies present us with great opportunities and allows us to
do many things in a more efficient, timely and convenient manner. At
the same time, they present us with tough and challenging questions
when we consider some of the ethical implications associated with the
various technologies we currently have or are likely to have at our disposal in
the future. For example, a New York Times online edition published on 11 June
2006, revealed that human resources officers are increasingly rejecting job
applicants because of material they found on them on social networking sites.
However one may evaluate this development, it shows that new information
and communication technologies (ICTs) such as social networking sites have
ethical relevance. There is a host of ethical issues that are typically associated
with ICTs. Prominent among them are issues of privacy and data protection.
However, ethical issues of ICT go beyond these areas. Another area of concern
is that of intellectual property. IP has gained high importance in modern knowledge
societies. Much of it is linked to ICTs or can be incorporated in electronic
form. This raises the problem of copying and distribution.
Ethical issues of ICT can be found in many other areas. A cross-cutting issue
is that of access and digital divides. Given the growing importance of being able
to interact electronically, it is generally accepted that lack of access can be an
ethical problem. The different distribution of material and other resources
required to engage online then becomes an ethical issue that needs to be
addressed by governments, organisations, or international bodies. In addition to
these issues where ICT plays an obvious role, one can also find ethical implications
of ICT that arise from its ubiquitous use and reflect ongoing ethical questions.
These include for example the way in which power is distributed in organisations.
Where previously the time an employee spent at work could be measured,
it is now easy to log key strokes as a measure of productivity. ICTs can be
used to conduct surveillance, including automated surveillance, which can benefit
or disadvantage whole sections of the population.
While the problems of evaluating ethics of ICT is significant for current ICTs, it
becomes more pressing, but also more difficult, for emerging ICTs. If societies
want to be proactive in addressing possible ethical issues, they need to have
some reliable way of identifying these technologies. These emerging technologies
then need to be evaluated from an ethical perspective. This ethical evaluation
can then inform ways of addressing these issues. The ETICA project aims
to do just this. It will identify emerging ICTs and their related potential ethical
issues. These will then be evaluated and ranked according to their gravity.
Such identification of emerging ICTs and associated ethical issues will lead to
policy advice on appropriate governance structures and/or processes of ethics
of future technologies that ETICA will recommend for consideration to the
European Commission. This magazine gives an insight in progress and findings
of the project and introduces the partners and their roles. Current information on
the project can be found on the project website at: