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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Why business cannot afford to ignore tech ethics

Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan
Originally posted 6 DEC 20

From one angle, the pandemic looks like a vindication of “techno-solutionism”. From the more everyday developments of teleconferencing to systems exploiting advanced artificial intelligence, platitudes to the power of innovation abound.

Such optimism smacks of short-termism. Desperate times often call for swift and sweeping solutions, but implementing technologies without regard for their impact is risky and increasingly unacceptable to wider society. The business leaders of the future who purchase and deploy such systems face costly repercussions, both financial and reputational.

Tech ethics, while a relatively new field, has suffered from perceptions that it is either the domain of philosophers or PR people. This could not be further from the truth — as the pandemic continues, so the importance grows of mapping out potential harms from technologies.

Take, for example, biometrics such as facial-recognition systems. These have a clear appeal for companies looking to check who is entering their buildings, how many people are wearing masks or whether social distancing is being observed. Recent advances in the field have combined technologies such as thermal scanning and “periocular recognition” (the ability to identify people wearing masks).

But the systems pose serious questions for those responsible for purchasing and deploying them. At a practical level, facial recognition has long been plagued by accusations of racial bias.