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Ensuring The Ethical Development Of Online Platforms And Products

Guidance on Key Issues

The following guest blog was written by Jane Sandwood. The last section was added by The Ethics Sage.

Overview of Ethical Issues

As well as appreciating the increasing sophistication of the design and function of websites and apps, consumers also want to be reassured that the technology has been created in an ethical way. The ethical reputation of a manufacturer of physical goods can be easily verified by checking whether it maintains a low carbon footprint, uses sustainable materials, or treats its workforce fairly. However, it is harder to hold a tech company accountable for how their products are developed and ultimately used by customers. This is partly because digital products are increasingly making use of algorithms to drive machine learning and AI. While these programs can improve the user interface, only by creating an ethical framework for AI and monitoring the algorithms on which it is based, can transparency, safety and fairness be maintained. 

Balancing Advanced Web Design With Transparency

The composition of a website or app is a combination of creative design and evolving technology which can enhance personalization for consumers. At the design stage, the incremental development stimulated by Rapid Prototyping quickly updates and improves a site, solving any issues as they arise and creating a product that meets the needs of its users. To enhance the experience further, some web designers are looking to integrate a conversational interface that can mimic human dialogue. Although this could result in sites that can better understand their users, it is important to be open with customers and explain how their personal data is sourced and utilized.

Monitoring AI To Prevent Corruption 

The iterative process of Rapid Prototyping is also a feature of algorithms that are used to develop AI and help it to evolve. Although it can improve the design of a website, it is also possible for AI technology, when left unchecked, to create and perpetuate biases. This is obviously unintentional, but it highlights the importance of closely monitoring algorithms in order to prevent these problems from arising. Customers want reassurances that their personal data is adequately protected, and that features such as facial recognition are sufficiently accurate. 

Choice Architecture For Consumers

As well as monitoring AI, feedback from consumers about their experience with a site can be used to create safer and more ethical programs. Without this feedback, AI algorithms may cause harm to consumers, as their evolving behavior is overlooked by software developers and companies. The different ways in which options are presented on a site, known as choice architecture, can have an impact on how consumers make their selections. This may be good for business; however, when consumers are unaware of how they are being targeted and manipulated, it is not a fair and transparent design. 

Rapid prototyping and the use of AI in website development are both used to quickly improve design and can result in an enhanced experience for consumers. Website developers and businesses that closely monitor any changes created by the algorithms on which AI relies can ensure that the user interfaces they produce are also fair, transparent, and ethical for all.

Ensuring The Ethical Development Of Online Platforms And Products 

AI bias

There are a variety of challenges to the ethical development that need to be addressed from the perspective of Bias in AI systems. Bias in AI decision making, transparency around how they reach their conclusions, liability when things go wrong… there are some important topics which need addressing when considering how to implement ethical considerations into the IT sector. The task of ensuring that ethical considerations are firmly embedded into every stage and aspect of the tech industry is an ambitious one, but in many ways, it is also obvious and well-overdue. A lack of basic understanding around IT and how tech companies operate, both among the public and those in positions of authority, is no small barrier to initiating a full public debate on the subject. However, with continued coverage of the issue and many commentators suggesting we are at ‘crunch-point’ where public awareness of and attitudes towards tech companies is shifting, perhaps we are now approaching the moment where we can do more to ensure that IT is good for society.

Bias in AI Decision Making

A critical issue to ethical development is AI Bias. Bias in AI decision making, transparency around how they reach their conclusions, liability when things go wrong… there are some big topics which need addressing when considering how to implement ethical considerations into the IT sector. The task of ensuring that ethical considerations are firmly embedded into every stage and aspect of the tech industry is an ambitious one, but in many ways, it is also obvious and well-overdue. A lack of basic understanding around IT and how tech companies operate, both amongst the public and those in positions of authority, is no small barrier to initiating a full public debate on the subject. However, with continued coverage of the issue and many commentators suggesting we are at ‘crunch-point’ where public awareness of and attitudes towards tech companies is shifting, perhaps we are now approaching the moment where we can do more to ensure that IT is good for society.

Blog written by Jane Sandwood. Here contact information is: janesandwood.writer@gmail.com.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on March 10, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.

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