A man gotta have a code
Omar Little in HBO serie The Wire

A code gotta have a code

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Gangsters have code of ethics. Now that software and AI are replacing some human decisions, we need to reinforce ethics in our digital projects.

Ethics and digital

What is right, what is wrong for a software, a robot or an AI?

Ethics is the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. Instinctively, one can say that a computer, a software, a robot or an AI algorithm has no conscience of what is right and what is bad. Unless someone is telling the machine. We must incorporate ethics, not only in our decision process with a ethical board but also in our code!

Give me some examples

Ethics is not limited to autonomous cars where the decision must be about who the car should run over (if there is no other choice, obviously) or if drone should kill. Let’s cite some examples in our daily lives:

  • Is it right if we store or use those personal data, regardless of regulations such as GDPR?
  • Is the algorithm introducing a (racial, gender…) bias? I encourage the reading of this article of NYT Dealing with bias in Artificial Intelligence.
  • Are we encouraging fake news? As an example, the responsibility of social networks in the diffusion of some information is now at stake in public debates.
  • Is my usage IT systems and clouds done in a sustainable way? Consumers will be incrementally demanding of such data, while climate change awareness is rising.
  • What is right to listen with a voice commanded system?

This is not optional

To consider ethics in IT, in AI, in cloud computing, in digital programs of any kind is not optional. It has too many consequences in terms of brand reputation, consumer, investors (see the rise of ESG) and employees buy-in. Also, one can easily bet that regulations and laws will continue to grow in this area to organize what is still today the Far West.

L’Oréal was recently having their Ethics Days and I like what they were saying about ethics:

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“Ethics is Vital”, Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oreal, Ethics Day Survey 2020
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“Ethics is Ethics is doing the right thing (not what you have the right to do)”, Nicolas Hieronimus, Deputy CEO of L’Oréal, Ethics Day Survey 2020

Where do we start?

Awareness sessions and training on ethics in IT projects is probably the first priority, no matter if you are a manager or a developer. Secondly, a strong connection must be set between the ground where code is built and any ethics committee that is in place or that must be put in place. Nobody wants a theorical disconnected governance body. Last, I am in favour in selected code review with an ethical angle and with a fresh look of someone being aware about ethical potential issue.

As Digital Transformation will never end, it is better to start to work on ethics immediately.

Acronyms:
ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance

Sources:
Definition of Ethics, Meriam Webster dictionnary
EU Data Protection Rules, European Commission
Dealing with bias in Artificial Intelligence, New York Times
Ethics Days at L’Oréal, October 22, 2020

Photo credit:
Screenshot from The Wire, HBO
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Philippe André

    Ethic commitee are fine, but in democracy and open society, ethic must be shared, debated and agreed by public. One of the issue is to have ethic rules and implementations that are owned by private organization that impact the entire society. In healthcare, genomic and biological research, we have in France the ethic commitee that debates and provides guidelines and standards that can be translated into laws. It is not perfect bit it ensures that the citizens (via their elected representatives) take part into the design of that ethic code

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