Digital ethics is not an exotic topic anymore, but mainstream media are full of stories about the ethical impact of digital technologies. Xethix talked to Frank Buytendijk, Distinguished VP Analyst Gartner, about this development.
Xethix: You started in September 2016 on the Gartner Website a blog about Digital Ethics yourself. Why do you think this topic should be relevant?
Frank Buytendijk: The topic of digital ethics is more than “should be relevant” by now. It is in fact at the top of the Gartner hype cycle. It is on the mind of many IT and business leaders, and the mainstream media are full of stories about the ethical impact of digital technologies. On business, but mostly on society.
The attention for digital ethics is logical. If technology advancement is going so fast that as people, organizations and society we can’t fully grasp it anymore, and it starts to affect our lives, at one moment the questions come up: “do we think this is good what is happening?”, and “doesn’t all this innovation need a little bit over parental oversight?”.
Xethix: Has the focus towards Digital Ethics changed in the last 3 years?
Frank Buytendijk: Yes it has. Three-Six years ago the focus really was on big data and privacy. Now the discussion has moved on to the ethical impact of artificial intelligence. Very big questions such as the impact of AI and people losing their jobs. But also practical questions, such as how can we create explainable AI.
The biggest fundamental question of AI and ethics is in the changing relationship between people and technology. AI technology starts to display early signs of “agency”, the capacity to act in a certain context, and we need to figure out what that means in terms of e.g. responsibility.
Xethix: You said business in not immoral but amoral. Is this a question of age of of the times in general?
Frank Buytendijk: The idea that business is amoral is relatively new. It came as part of the focus on shareholder value. Many still believe that is the right way forward, but others are arguing that this idea is not sustainable, and it is changing again.
We know from surveys that both customers and employees (each around 2/3 of them) start to expect from businesses that they speak out on where they stand on larger social themes, and act accordingly. Essentially, we are moving back to the original paradigm that business is supposed to have a societal purpose. To contribute in a positive way.
Xethix: What do you expect from blogs focussing on Digital ethics?
Frank Buytendijk: The blog is a nice “starter’ on the topic, but the real impact we have as Gartner is working with clients. The research we have goes a bit deeper than the blog, and we literally discuss ethics with clients every day. Helping clients identify their ethical dilemmas and then provide them with ways how to deal with them responsibly.
Frank Buytendijk is a Distinguished VP and Gartner Fellow in Gartner’s Data and Analytics group. His work mostly takes a futurist approach, researching the edges of what he covers. Mr. Buytendijk pioneers the topics of „the future,“ „digital ethics“ and „digital society“ helping organizations to do the „right thing“ with technology and avoid „messing up.“ He further covers data and analytics. In addition to that, he is the co-lead of the Gartner Maverick Research program which is Gartner’s research incubator. Next to his responsibilities at Gartner, Mr. Buytendijk is a visiting Fellow at Cranfield University School of Management, and a regular guest lecturer at Warwick Business School.