Morality is a big topic. A difficult one, too. One, you can chew a lot on.
Despite morality being described as a compass to navigate, the question always remains: for what specific territory? And aren’t maps often drawn from the perspective of the winners, the rulers, or dominating guides?
How would you design a moral compass to help you responsibly build tech?
It was spring 2021, Europe was again in Lockdown mode when a group of strangers set off on a 5-month exploratory journey in search of the questions that would guide humanity to develop responsible tech.
Intrigued by the online housework assignment given by the House of Beautiful Business, a global platform and community to make humans more human and business more beautiful, Eva, Adriana, Shannon, Winnie, and I formed the Q-Collective and started to deep dive into the 10 moral questions tech creators should ask themselves before building new products.
To care and to discover
Coming from 5 different nations crafting a united purpose statement seemed imperative. So, consider the following as our north star. We realize that technology only benefits humans when its creators imagine and build it in a responsible way that serves a moral purpose, inspiring us to care for, respect, and honor planetary boundaries and our planet’s needs, the universe, the dignity of all its inhabitants and future generations.
Second, we explored the territory, the moral values, technology would need to adhere to fulfill the purpose.
The first value we defined is Care & Compassion. Every time we build new technology, we create it as if it is an extension of us—of our humanity. A humanity that is underpinned by our unique ability as human beings to love one another. To care for others and other things. And to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves.
But how does the moral value relate to technology, and would we avoid remaining in philosophical spheres only? Here is an example of what we mean.
Cashier-less grocery stores use hundreds of cameras and sensors to allow you to just enter the store, pick up what you need, and leave. However, does the concept still allow you to help another person, by picking something from a shelf they cannot reach, as the product is touched by you and thus will simply be added to your bill? And how about the shop as part of the social fabric of a neighborhood?
The second value has depth: Discovery. Now you might think technology is always about discovery, right? Think about the internet and how much it enabled us to gain more knowledge and meet new people (such as the Q-Collective). But the average user visits less than one hundred different websites a month. With more than 200 million active websites, there is more to explore. Also, think about all the bubbles and biases social networks are creating.
Awareness of the public good
Value number three: Holistic Thinking. I know, we all pretend to do this, all the time. But leading with a value for holistic thinking means an appreciation for direct and indirect stakeholders of the technology, and awareness of the public good. As a value activated, this can mean conducting a holistic risk assessment before products or services are brought to market, involving direct and indirect stakeholders such as the climate, the flora, fauna, other human beings, the societal impact.
I guess the fourth value, Transparency & Integrity does not come as surprise. Easy said but hard to apply. It means that users have the information they need to make a moral assessment for themselves about their use of the technology. It means that the technology is created in a way that serves the dignity of human beings and justice for all.
The fifth and final value is balance. Put short: Technology enables equality and promotes planetary and human sustainability.
5 values to follow
- Care & Compassion
- Holistic Thinking
- Transparency & Integrity
Equipped with this set of five powerful values we crafted for each value a set of 2 distinguished and applicable questions. Each of the 10 questions is articulated in one own perspective, to be comfortably applied during any development stage of a new product or technology. Some of the questions can be answered by a yes or no like, “Am I able to shut it off?”. Others will require more reflection: “How does my creation nurture the freedom of discovery?”
5 values leading to 10 moral questions
After five months of continuous work, we published the results of our journey on: www.10moralquestions.com
Only when you start asking these questions, will you map out the territory of responsibility. The answers will then reflect the morality of your tech.
I would like to invite you to explore them. Go, and ask any of the questions—to yourself within your tech project. To your peers and teammates as you enter the next development stage. To the tech evangelist in your next Zoom conference.
At INDEED the impact of our professional behavior and the output of our work towards the planetary boundaries have been in constant focus throughout the last two years. A Design-Lifecycle Analysis (LCA), for example, can quantify the emissions of your future work. And you can define the numerical threshold of what is acceptable, good or bad. But with the 10 moral questions, we have now a powerful tool enabling us to collectively explore additional perspectives to what it means to create humane innovation for a more beautiful life for all living things – and future generations.
Karel J. Golta
CEO + Founder