Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

Issues, Concepts and Methods Relating to the Identification of the Ethics of Emerging ICTs

Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

Issues, Concepts and Methods Relating to the Identification of the Ethics of Emerging ICTs

Article excerpt


If we knew the consequences of novel technologies, then we would be in a better position to leverage or address them. Expected and unexpected positive results could be supported and strengthened while problems could be avoided or mitigated. An important aspect of the consequences of technologies is related to moral perceptions and ethical norms. In the area of information and communication technologies (ICTs), prominent examples of such issues are those of privacy, intellectual property, security and access. But how can we know these consequences?

This question is of central importance to policy makers who wish to be proactive in addressing moral and ethical issues. Despite its importance, it is an exceptionally difficult question to answer. The combination of uncertainty of the future, conceptual issues surrounding the very term technology, the potential infinity of issues and the problems of contextualising abstract issues combine to render ethics of emerging technologies all but intractable. And yet, giving up in the face of these problems is no viable solution either. Not exploring ethics of emerging technologies constitutes one possible choice in dealing with them. And this is arguably the worst possible choice.

This leaves scholars with an interest in ethics and emerging ICTs in the position of having to come up with workable solutions to finding out what possible issues may be, knowing full well that any result they produce may be more than fallible. The present paper outlines a methodological approach that allows a robust, transparent and rigorous method of identifying the ethics of emerging ICTs. It starts out by describing how the technologies themselves can be identified. This includes a discussion of the different problems such future oriented research faces. On the basis of the exploration of these issues, the paper then presents the different steps of the suggested methodology. This leads to the question of the ethics analysis of the emerging ICTs. The conclusion will reflect on the limitations of this approach.

The paper presents and justifies the choices made by the consortium of the ETICA project, a European research project funded under the 7th Framework Programme. It explains the way in which the members of this project have come to a conclusion on these difficult problems. This does not imply that the solutions and methodological choices discussed here are the only ones possible. Despite the provenance from a particular research project, the paper addresses the general issue of methodology in ethics in technology and thereby makes an important contribution to the discourse on ethics in technology, specifically ICTs. It represents a contribution to epistemology and methodology in technoethics. It is important to note, however, that the epistemological and methodological problems discussed here are not merely theoretical but of primary importance of practice. Technology policy that wants to be informed by research needs to be able to rely on acceptable methodologies.

The paper is organised as follows. It begins by outlining the conceptual, epistemological and other problems faced by research into ethics of emerging ICTs. It then describes a possible methodology that is sensitive to these problems but nevertheless allows a transparent and justified view of such technologies. This leads to a brief outline of findings, which are then reflected on in the conclusion.


From an ethical perspective it is desirable to have an accurate description of the situation in which ethical issues are to be evaluated. This is true for most, if not all, ethical perspectives, including utilitarian consequentialism, Kantian deontology or Aristotelian virtue ethics but also for other approaches such as ethics of care or postmodern ethics. Much ethical debate is predicated by the assumption that all relevant aspects are known or at least could be known. …

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