Global Challenge 15: How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?
Global warming and the Covid-19 pandemic 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 ethics, values, and principles are being discussed at OECD, ISO, IEEE, and national governments for the foundations of AI and its auditing, it is possible that AI will increase ethical decisionmaking.
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. 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 do more good. The Panama Papers, released in 2016, exposed corruption worldwide. 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.
At the same time, an increasingly educated and Internet-connected generation is increasingly rising up against the abuse of power and demanding accountability. The release of the Panama Papers in April 2016 exposed corruption worldwide. Surveillance implications of the IoT connected with AI could deter unethical decisionmaking. New technologies also make it easier for more people to do more good at a faster pace than ever before. The rising number of protests around the world shows a growing unwillingness to tolerate unethical decisionmaking 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 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. Corporate social responsibility programs, ethical marketing, and social investing are increasing. The UN Global Compact is reinforcing ethics in business decisionmaking 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.
However, at times corporate behavior can be 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 2021 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. Medial polarization is decreasing social coherence; press freedoms declined over past five years, and as of January 2023 there were 509 journalists are in 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 moral to collaborate across national, institutional, political, religious, and ideological boundaries that is 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 decisionmaking. 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 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. 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 accessible to individuals, organizations, and governments have become too powerful and diverse to allow the growth of unethical behavior.
Actions to Address Global Challenge 15:
- Create 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.
- Promote parental guidance to establish a sense of values.
- Make ethics part of performance evaluation 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.
- Use entertainment media to promote memes like “make decisions that are good for me, you, and the world.”
- Revoke corrupt officials’ travel visas.
- Create better incentives for ethics in global decisions.
- Establish country SDG basket of companies for investors.
- Add ethics, fair play, and why truth matters in curricula of all levels of education.
Figure 1.14 CPIA transparency, accountability, and corruption in the public sector rating (1=low; 6=high)