Embracing our ethical responsibilities in the products we make

The transcription of Cennydd Bowles’s talk on ethics in technology at SustainableUX 2019 is absolute gold and a must-read:

It’s a mistake to separate technical capabilities from human capabilities. These things act together. They become interwoven, hybridized actors. Things change what people can do and how they do it. It is true to an extent that old sage that guns don’t kill people; people do. But a gunman, the hybrid actor of a human and a technology coming together, sure as hell can.

So we have to abandon this belief that the things we build are just neutral tools. We have to recognize therefore that we can’t wash our hands of the social, ethical and political consequences of our work. This can be a tough sell to some. Technology and algorithms and then the bedrock of it all, data, are often seen as clean, objective, neutral things.

He gives lots of practical advice on how to make ethical thinking part of our work — including viewing ethics as just another design constraint, like any other. And for a more… uh… “incendiary” approach to this topic, also see Mike Monteiro’s We Built A Broken Internet. Now We Need To Burn It To The Ground.