Why we need to talk about ethics in technology

By Matt Lovegrove. Posted

How should we teach future generations to adopt an ethical approach to using technology?

Never has there been a more important time to discuss the ethical use of technologies with young people.

The impact technology has on our world is colossal and, due to this, we’re only just starting to catch up with ourselves.

What is technological ethics?

Ethics in technology, simply put, refers to moral principles that govern how technologies should be used. These principles include accountability, digital rights, privacy, freedom, data protection, online behaviour, and more. As new technologies become available, ethical issues are raised in an attempt to ensure that these have a positive impact on the human race and the environment.

Why talk about it?

Last year, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) estimated that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t yet been invented. With the implementation of new technology comes an ethical duty, and it’s important that the generation who’ll be taking up these future jobs have a sound understanding of their ethical responsibilities.

Take hacking, for instance. Hacking has both negative and positive meanings, in that accessing a computer system without authorisation might be illegal, but it’s also a term used for remixing or testing new ways of using computers or programs. It’s important that young people have a good understanding of how and when it’s acceptable to hack, and when and where the line is crossed.

And then there’s copyright. It’s easy to download and copy information from the Internet, but is this acceptable behaviour, does it breach someone’s rights, and how should someone respond if their work is directly copied or plagiarised? Teaching children about copyright laws and respecting others’ work is imperative in a world where more and more content is being made available online.

And what about privacy? With the internet being inherently open, we need to teach young people about their rights and responsibilities within this area: their right to maintain privacy and their responsibility to treat others’ information with care. When is it acceptable to share data about others and what does the law say about how we should store this data? A solid understanding of privacy and data protection could help future generations avoid issues currently being experienced by social media companies.

Online behaviour is an area that is particularly important for young people to spend time reflecting upon, especially as social media technologies are being adopted by a large percentage of children from a very young age. How should people behave online, what is responsible communication, why is it important to respect others online, what are the risks of being able to chat to anyone, and how should cyber bullying be responded to? These questions open up incredibly interesting discussions with children and help promote responsible use of technologies.

How should we talk about it?

Discussions based around open ethical questions and debates around rights and responsibilities are good avenues to take when introducing technological ethics to young people. Looking at particular case studies, or examples of when ethical considerations weren’t taken, might be a useful context to introduce this area of learning.

Responding to cyber bullying

Four easy-to-remember steps can help young people respond to cyber bullying:

  • Don’t respond, as responding can fuel the fire

  • Save the evidence: this might be needed later

  • Block or report the bully

  • Seek advice from a parent/carer, teacher or another trusted adult


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