Global Challenge 15

Global Challenge 15: How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?

Brief Overview

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)

Source: World Bank indicators, with The Millennium Project compilation and forecast
Regional Considerations
Sub-Saharan Africa: About 5% of African youth go to universities today and are likely to be the next generation of African leaders. How much they care about their ethical development could predict the future ethics of the continent. South Africa has launched the Five Plus Project to get 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 proportion of children engaged in child labor in sub-Saharan Africa is currently around 25%. Corruption in the region is estimated at $150 billion (more than the entire amount of ODA); this remains a serious impediment to democracy and economic development in many African countries. However, bribery varies across Africa; 63% of those surveyed in Sierra Leone reported paying bribes (down from 84% several years ago) while only 4% in Botswana reported this. The Business Ethics Network of Africa continues to grow (10 Sub-Sharan and 6 North African countries patriciate), with conferences, research, and publications. Transparency International has 16 National Chapters, 5 National Chapters in Formation and 6 National Contacts in Sub-Saharan Africa helping to build capacity to counter corruption.
Middle East and North Africa: What are the global ethics of intervention? Scholars should draw lessons about the ethical implications of intervention and decisionmaking on all sides of the Syrian disasters. Much of the original Arab Spring/Awaking protests were calls for ethics in decisionmaking. With youth unemployment at 25% of the region’s population, increasing crime and another forms of unethical activity it is likely. According to surveys corporate social responsibility is growing in the Middle East and North Africa. This may build on Zakat (charitable giving), one of the five requirements in Islam.
Asia and Oceania: UNESCO organized the first Asia-Pacific conference on “Ethics Education for All: Searching for a New Paradigm of Learning to Live Together,” which focused on global justice, curriculum and future trends in ethics education. Altering the genome of embryos by Chinese scientists raises the ethics of one generation changing the genetics for all future generations. 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. As China’s global decisionmaking role increases, it will face traditional versus Western value conflicts. It has initiated a major anticorruption campaign and if successful could influence others in the region. Some believe the rate of urbanization and economic growth is so fast in Asia that it is difficult to consider global ethics, while some Asians do not believe there are common global ethics and maintain that the pursuit to create them is a Western notion.
Europe: The growing immigrant population in Europe will increase discussions of ethics and identity for Europe. 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 EU Anti-Corruption Report, to be published every two years, has been set to assess and help member states’ efforts to address corruption. The first report, published in 2014, shows that 76% of the Europeans participating in the Eurobarometer survey think that corruption is widespread in their own country, with ratings ranging from 20% in Denmark to 99% in Greece and 97% in Italy. The financial crisis involving Greece and other Southern European countries raises moral issues about the interdependent ethical responsibilities among citizens, the state, and members of the eurozone. The European Ethics Network is linking efforts to improve ethical decisionmaking, while Ethics Enterprise is working to mobilize an international network of ethicists and to organize innovative actions to attract attention for ethics in business. 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 naturalresources are at odds with environmental ethics across the region. Chile’s President vowed to counter corruption as a top priority for her new government. Mexico has passed legislation to create a national anti-corruption system and enacted an Anti-corruption Federal Law on public procurement to punish individuals and companies for unethical behavior. Problems such as lack of personal security, limited access to education and health services, lack of faith in politics, badly damaged institutions that do not fulfill their role (such as the justice system and police), and the accelerated environmental degradation in some countries are aspects of a serious lack of ethical values. Regardless of legal frameworks, large sections of the population remain excluded from the promised protections. It also manifests as a serious lack of ethical standards in the mass media.
North America: With 5% of the world’s population, the US has 25% of those in jail, and 50% 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 and hence replace covert methods? Although the U.S. has provided some leadership in bringing ethical considerations into many international organizations and forums, its ethical leadership is compromised by lobbying interests; the U.S. 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. 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.