Global Challenge 15

Global Challenge 15:

How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?

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Global warming, the Covid-19 pandemic, and artificial intelligence are increasing awareness that humanity has to improve its global governance systems. Decisions are increasingly being made by AI; and since their algorithms are not ethically neutral, the future of ethics will in part be influenced by auditing ethical assumptions in software. IEEE and ISO are creating the standards, metrics, and ways to evaluate and audit ethical values in AI, including autonomous systems. Since the best of universal ethics, values, and principles are being identified and defined at OECD, UNESCO, ISO, IEEE, and national governments to be the foundations for AI and auditing of AI for its alignment with these values, then it is possible that AI will increase ethical decision-making.

Ethics will also be influenced by the flood of new information channels that are used to pollute and distort perceptions. Information warfare is being waged against national elections, public perception of vaccines, and continues to enflame ethnic divisions. Political spin masters drown out the pursuit of truth. The majority of children 15 years old in 79 countries could not tell the difference between fact and opinion. We need to learn how to prevent or counter information warfare and fake news, as individuals, as well as governments, corporations, and academia. At the same time, an increasingly educated and Internet-connected generation is rising up against the abuse of power and demanding accountability. New technologies make it easier for more people to organized efforts to do good, honorable, compassionate activities. The Panama Papers, released in 2016, exposed financial corruption worldwide. The #MeToo Movement increased awareness, policy changes, and legal actions against sexual transgressions. Surveillance implications of the IoT connected with AI could deter unethical decision-making. The rising number of protests around the world shows a growing unwillingness to tolerate unethical decision-making by power elites.

Although short-term economic “me-first” attitudes are prevalent throughout the world, love for humanity, solidarity, and global consciousness are also evident in the norms expressed in transnational political movements, inter-religious dialogues, UN organizations (and the recent Our Common Agenda), international philanthropy, the Olympic spirit, refugee relief, development programs for poorer nations, NGOs like Doctors Without Borders, and international journalism. Global ethics are emerging around the world through the evolution of ISO standards and international treaties that define the norms of civilization. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to shape discussions about global ethics and justice and influence decisions across ethical, religious, and ideological divides. The International Criminal Court has indicted over 40 leaders, and the World Court has delivered 126 judgments between nation-states. UNESCO is developing standards for the ethics of neurotechnology. Corporate social responsibility programs, ethical marketing, and social investing are increasing. The UN Global Compact is reinforcing ethics in business decision-making and its new CFO Coalition for the SDGs is facilitating corporate investments for sustainability. Although much is yet to be done, there is the beginnings of an ecology of accountability systems to develop and enforce global ethics.

It is quite likely that the vast majority of decisions every day around the world is perfectly honorable. Collective responsibility for global ethics in decision-making is embryonic but growing. The number of UN and other international meetings are increasing that explore common ground to improve the future for all. Much of the focus during the planning for the UN Summit of the Future was global ethics in decision-making. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have recruited 128 billionaires to give the majority of their money to philanthropic causes. Elon Musk is freely sharing patents to accelerate development of greener technologies. Richard Branson created Plan B for businesses to make decisions for people, planet, and profit, but not just for profit.

However, too often business is a way to make money by cheating people instead of solving problems. Some multi-national corporate behavior is less ethical in lower-income countries such as in waste disposal, cigarette advertising, and child labor. Corporate advanced marketing methods that bypass consumers’ deliberative capacities based on cognitive and behavioral sciences raise new questions of ethics. Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index shows no improvement or deterioration for the past ten years; however, modern day slavery has increased to 50 million in 2022, of whom the majority are female. Media polarization is decreasing social coherence; press freedoms declined over past five years; 779 journalists were in jail at some point in 2023 and there were 547 in jail beginning in 2024 jail; and, the global concentration of wealth has become obscene. The proliferation of unethical decisions that led to the 2008 financial crisis and 2009 global recession clearly demonstrate the interdependence of economic results and ethics.

The motivation to collaborate across national, institutional, political, religious, and ideological boundaries necessary to address today’s global challenges requires global ethics. Public morality based on religious metaphysics is challenged daily by growing secularism, leaving many unsure about the moral basis for decision-making. Many turn to old traditions for guidance which gives rise to fundamentalist movements. Unfortunately, religions and ideologies that claim moral superiority give rise to “we-they” splits that are being played out in conflicts around the world.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child empowered by the Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by 196 States (but not the US) asserts that children have a right to a sustainable environment; this has led to the right of children to sue their elders for global warming inaction. October 5, 2023 six young people from Portugal brought a law suit against 33 European countries to the European Court of Human Rights for insufficient action to address global warming. Although it was ruled inadmissible in April 2024, it has triggered interest in intergenerational justice.

The increasing power of technology makes questions of ethics in engineering increasingly important to teach and practice; e.g., ethical AI, synthetic biology, nano-robotics, genomics, brain-computer interfaces, and other next technologies (NTs). The acceleration of scientific and technological change seems to be beyond conventional means of ethical evaluation. Is it ethical to clone ourselves or bring dinosaurs back to life or to invent thousands of new life forms through synthetic biology? Since there is little time to assess daily S&T advances, is it time to invent anticipatory ethical systems? Just as law has a body of previous judgments to draw on for guidance, will we also need bodies of ethical judgments about possible future events? For example, in the foreseeable future it may be possible for individuals acting alone to make and deploy weapons of mass destruction. To prevent this possibility, will governments sacrifice citizen privacy? Will families and communities be more effective in nurturing more mentally healthy, moral people? Will public health and education systems create early detection and intervention strategies? Surveillance cameras are forecast to increase from 214.3 million units in 2021 to 524.75 million units in 2027.The consequences of the failure to raise moral, mentally healthy people will be more serious in the future than in the past. Technologies have become too powerful, accessible, and diverse to allow the growth of unethical behavior. Ethical and spiritual education should grow in balance with the new powers given to humanity by technological progress.

Challenge 15 will be addressed seriously when corruption decreases by 50% from the World Bank estimates of 2006; ethical business standards are internationally practiced and regularly audited; essentially all students receive education in ethics and responsible citizenship; and when global ethics is a generally acknowledged as transcending religion and nationality.

  • Use entertainment media to promote memes like “make decisions that are good for me, you, and the world.”
  • Use audit procedures to expose ethical assumptions in algorithms for AI.
  • Establish an international IAEA-like system and/or private sector anticipation system with public intervention to deter and/or prevent cyber and information warfare.
  • Enforce measures to reduce corruption such as those recommended by Transparency International.
  • Require civics and ethics in all forms of education, focusing on making behavior match the values people say they believe in.
  • Require long term thinking/futures studies integration into school curricula at all levels in order to reverse biases towards short term analysis for more ethical decision-making.
  • Entertainers, politicians, and other thought leaders should promote parental guidance to establish a sense of values.
  • Make ethics part of staff and management performance evaluation criteria.
  • Make ethics part of investment criteria.
  • Develop new social contracts between governments and citizens’ rights and responsibilities to prevent future forms of massively destructive terrorism.
  • Explore how transparency policies can be implemented.
  • Revoke corrupt officials’ travel visas.
  • Conduct research to identify effective incentives to increase ethical considerations in decision-making, such as adding enforcement provisions in international treaties and promoting the use of ISO 26000 and 37000 standards.
  • Hold senior executives accountable for the unethical products use for criminal purposes.
  • Establish country SDG basket of companies for investors.
  • Add ethics, fair play, and why truth matters in curricula of all levels of education.
  • Explore how to move from zero-sum power geopolitics to synergetic relations.
  • Teach synergic intelligence, advantage, strategy as well as completive intelligence, advantage, and strategy in business and diplomacy schools.

Sub-Saharan Africa:  South Africa has launched Five Plus Project to encourage richer South Africans to give at least 5% of their income to help reduce poverty. Since African citizens do not always share in the benefits of their natural resources, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is working to let the public know how their national natural resources are being used—and by whom and at what price. Special attention will have to be given to millions of AIDS orphans in Africa who have had little choice about growing up in unethical environments. The number of children engaged in child labor in sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 59 million in 2020 to 86.6 million by 2022, which is more than the rest of the world combined. This is the most corrupt region in the world with in an estimated $150 billion paid annually in bribes; this remains a serious impediment to democracy and economic development. However, increasing number of political leaders have vowed to fight bribery and public awareness on anti-corruption means are increasing. The Business Ethics Network of Africa continues to grow with conferences, research, and publications.

Middle East and North Africa: Scholars should draw lessons about the ethical implications of intervention and decision-making on all sides of the Syrian disasters. Much of the original Arab Spring/Awakening protests were calls for ethics in decision-making. With the millions of political and economic refugees and the highest percent of youth unemployment in the world, increasing crime and other forms of unethical activity is likely.

Asia and Oceania: The region has the largest number of 5–14-year-old laborers in the world (122 million). UNESCO organized the first Asia-Pacific conference on “Ethics Education for All and the Asia Pacific Ethics & Compliance Forum was held in Shanghai, China. South Korea has identified and implemented research ethics and integrity committees in 98% of four-year universities. Altering the genome of embryos by Chinese scientists raises the ethics of one generation changing the genetics for all future generations. As China’s global decision-making role increases, it will face traditional versus Western value conflicts. It has initiated a major anticorruption campaign, which if successful could influence others in the region. The South Asia Foresight Network (SAFN) is exploring synergic relations among nations rather zero-sum power competition. Some believe the region’s rapid rate of urbanization and economic growth makes it difficult to consider global ethics, while some consider global ethics to be a Western notion. The millions of dollars that flooded the Philippines to help it recover from Typhoon Haiyan led to corruption, reminding us to include financial accountability and transparency in natural disaster resilience planning.

Europe: Wales is considering making lying by politicians a criminal offence. UNESCO is training judges to address the legal and ethical issues in AI. The growing immigrant population increases discussions of European ethics and identity. Most euro-zone countries are ranked among the world’s least corrupt by Transparency International; however, it ranks Eastern Europe and Central Asia among the most corrupt in the world. The Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) monitors implementation of laws and standards of ethics. The European Network for Public Ethics created in 2022 conducts meetings to fight corruption and promotes public integrity. European Network of Research Ethics Committees (EUREC) coordinates the region’s research and training for ethics in decision-making. The new EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive is intended to strengthen the rules on environmental and the social information by requiring companies to report. Spain and France have the greatest number of businesses in the UN Global Compact, and Spain is also the leading country in ISO 50001 energy management compliance.

Latin America: Economic benefits of rapid exploitation of natural resources are at odds with environmental ethics across the region. Over 60% of people surveyed by Transparency International said corruption in the region is increasing. Problems such as lack of personal security, limited access to education and health services, lack of faith in politics, failing institutions (including courts and police), and the accelerated environmental degradation in some countries indicate a serious lack of ethical values. Regardless of legal frameworks, large sections of the population remain excluded from the promised protections and social services. Increasing political polarization also affects ethical decision-making. OECD study shows 67% of children 15 years old cannot differentiate between fact and option (average of 79 countries is 53%).

North America: As of 2023 the United States has close to 1.7 million people incarcerated, a number surpassed only by China (which has a population 4.5 times larger than the US), and 40% of the world’s military budgets. US Defense research has created cyborg insects that can be remotely controlled raising new questions for the future of inter-species cyborg ethics. Because technologies of national security intelligence and their applications could evolve faster than public understanding and political oversight, the US and others have begun to fundamentally rethink security and privacy requirements. What are the ethical ways to identify and stop individuals who are planning to make and deploy weapons of mass destruction? How far can business go to counter cyber espionage? Will a continually advancing “Internet of Things” with sensor networks and drones make privacy an illusion. The United States’ ethical leadership is compromised by lobbying interests; the Supreme Court ruled that new systems can allow anyone (including organized crime and foreign political sources) to donate any amount of money anonymously to special funds that could influence political media campaigns. There is still no generally accepted way to get corrupting money out of politics and elections or to stop “cozy relationships” between regulators and those they regulate. There is public dissatisfaction with the status and speed of prosecutions of individuals’ and companies’ unethical financial practices that lead to the 2008 financial crisis. The U.S. plans to adopt legislation to make it compliant with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. In the US 70% of foods produced by large food companies are considered unhealthy, and yet are approved by the FDA as fit for consumption, contributing to the poor health statistics in the country that spends more than any other per capita on healthcare. Although ranked among the top best countries by the Corruption Perceptions Index, Canada has been shaken by several incidents of corruption and abuse of public office, which undermines citizens’ trust in government officials.