How do we use technology for a vital society?

There are different opinions about technology. Especially about the role we give it to move our society forward. On the one hand, there is techno-optimism, the belief that technology can solve any challenge. On the other hand, there is techno-pessimism and mistrust; what is allowed and what is not and who is actually responsible? In short, how do we approach the future together with technology in a healthy and responsible manner, for example when we talk about vitality? Fontys researcher and teacher Jo-An Kamp is working on this issue and she will talk about this during the ELIS Innovation Summit.

Bringing Tech & Society together
“There are two groups that are directly involved with new technology; people who make this technology and those who work with it. In addition, there is society, with many non-techies, which sometimes looks skeptical about new developments. There is a gap between them,” Kamp explains. Technicians often focus on creating with innovation first. The check before launch is mainly on internal values; does the product do what it is supposed to do? There is often no external check on social values. And that is a problem, according to Kamp: “As a result, technology sometimes encounters misunderstanding and resistance. What we are working on within the Moral Design Strategy professorship is giving social values ​​a place in that technology.”

Ethics by design
According to Kamp, the solution lies not in an external check afterwards, but in the design process itself: “If you test an innovation against those social values ​​afterwards, it is only an ‘after thought’. But if you still have to go back to the drawing board at that point, a lot of work and time is lost. Incidentally, this is not only a business issue, but also an ethical question. Sometimes you only see the downside of a technology much later. For example, the inventor of the ‘Retweet’ button now regrets his invention very much. There has to be another way, which is why we propose making ethics part of the process. So ‘ethics by design’.”

Learning to think about ethics
So how do you bring that ethics into the design process? This is mainly a matter of creating awareness, for example among ICT students and technicians: “That may mean some extra work in the design process, but many students and technicians are open to this. Working more technologically does make us more efficient.” To facilitate this, Kamp also thinks about tooling that can help with this. No tooling that tells you whether something is right or wrong, but means to ask ourselves the right questions: “Morality is not black or white, our role as a knowledge institution is not to tell you what is right but to provide the means to to think critically.”

Corona Detector
Our techno-optimism sometimes blinds us to the impact of innovations, says Kamp. She gives the CoronaMelder app as an example: “The app showed whether you had been in contact with someone with Corona, but the technology became leading. For example, if a BOA wanted to address people about their behavior, they only had to wave a green tick in the app to undermine the official. You can also sabotage others with such an app, for example if a baker deliberately walks into a competitor’s house with a ‘contaminated’ app signal, or because of the risk of hackers. I don’t mean to say that the app was wrong by definition, but you have to ask the right questions to make that decision, for example whether technology is necessary at all and our common sense is sometimes no longer suitable?”

Technology and vitality
This critical assessment is also particularly relevant in the field of tension between technology and vitality, Kamp thinks: “First of all, we must ask ourselves what kind of society we want to have and how technology can contribute to achieving it. If we opt for a technological solution, then in addition to technical questions, we also have to ask questions about inclusiveness, data security, and sustainability. They determine whether our innovations increase prosperity. So we have to think about that carefully.”

Jo-An Kamp works as a senior lecturer/researcher at Fontys Hogeschool ICT and is part of the Moral Design Theory research group. She is also an ambassador for RightBrains, an organization that promotes more gender diversity in digital technology. On April 20, she will speak at the ELIS Innovation Summit about technology philosophy in practice. There are still tickets.

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