FUTURE101

Mastering Ethical Foresight: Executive Guide to Good Stategy

ethics how to Jun 27, 2023

Ethical foresight anticipates or predicts the ethical issues that new technological artifacts, services, and applications may raise. It is a crucial skill for managers who want to ensure that their products and systems are innovative, profitable, responsible, and beneficial for society.

In this blog post, we will explain ethical foresight, why it is needed, and how managers can improve their foresight with small steps that any individual manager can take.

  

What Is Ethical Foresight?

Ethical foresight is a form of foresight analysis focusing on emerging technologies’ ethical implications. Foresight analysis is a general term that refers to various analytical strategies for exploring possible future scenarios and their consequences. Foresight analysis can be used for different purposes, such as:

  • Exploring alternative futures and identifying opportunities and challenges

  • Evaluating the impacts and risks of current decisions and actions

  • Developing strategies and policies to shape desirable futures

  • Enhancing creativity and innovation

  • Engaging stakeholders and fostering dialogue

Ethical foresight is a specific type of foresight analysis that aims to identify and evaluate the ethical issues that new technological artifacts may raise. Ethical issues involve moral values, principles, rights, duties, or norms. Ethical issues can arise from the design, development, deployment, use, or misuse of technological artifacts. For example, some ethical issues that emerging technologies have raised are:

  • Privacy and data protection

  • Fairness and discrimination

  • Accountability and transparency

  • Safety and security

  • Human dignity and autonomy

  • Social justice and inclusion

  • Environmental sustainability

 

Ethical foresight can help managers to anticipate these issues before they become problems or crises. By doing so, managers can:

  • Avoid or mitigate negative impacts and harms

  • Enhance positive impacts and benefits

  • Align their products and systems with ethical values and standards

  • Build trust and reputation among customers, users, regulators, and society

  • Foster ethical awareness and culture within their organizations

 

Why Do We Need Ethical Foresight?   

Ethical foresight is needed because emerging technologies are often complex, uncertain, dynamic, and disruptive. They can have unforeseen or unintended consequences that may affect different groups of people differently. They can also challenge existing ethical frameworks or create new ethical dilemmas requiring careful deliberation.

Some of the factors that make ethical foresight challenging but necessary are:

  • The pace of technological change: Technology evolves rapidly and often outpaces the ability of society to adapt or regulate it. This creates gaps or mismatches between technology and ethics that must be addressed.

  • The interdependence of technological systems: Technology is often interconnected or interdependent with other technologies or systems. This creates complex interactions or feedback loops that may amplify or multiply the ethical issues involved.

  • The diversity of stakeholders: Technology affects a wide range of stakeholders with different interests, values, perspectives, or expectations. This creates conflicts or trade-offs that need to be balanced or resolved.

  • The uncertainty of future scenarios: Technology can create multiple possible futures with different probabilities or desirabilities. This creates uncertainty or ambiguity that needs to be reduced or managed.

 

How Can You Improve Your Ethical Foresight?

Ethical foresight is not a fixed or innate ability but a skill that can be learned and improved. Managers can enhance their ethical foresight by adopting simple steps that can be integrated into their daily work routines. Here are some examples:

  • Keep up to date with the latest trends and developments in technology and ethics. Read relevant articles, blogs, reports, books, podcasts, or newsletters that provide insights or analysis on emerging technologies and their ethical implications. Some sources that we recommend are:

    • The Ethics of AI: A book by Luciano Floridi that provides a comprehensive overview of the ethical challenges posed by artificial intelligence.

    • The Ethical Tech Podcast: A podcast by Andrew Strait that features interviews with experts on various topics related to technology and ethics.

    • The Future Society: A think tank that conducts research and advocacy on the governance of emerging technologies.

    • The IEEE Standards Association: An organization that develops standards and guidelines for the ethical design of autonomous systems.

  • Conduct regular ethical foresight analysis on your products and systems. Use existing methodologies or tools to help you identify and evaluate the ethical issues your products and systems may raise. Some methodologies or tools that we recommend are:

    • Ethical Foresight Analysis: A framework by Luciano Floridi and Andrew Strait that reviews six commonly-used forms of foresight analysis and their strengths and weaknesses for ethical evaluation.

    • Ethical Impact Assessment: A tool by Bernd Carsten Stahl and colleagues that provides a step-by-step guide for assessing the ethical impacts of information and communication technologies.

    • Ethical Matrix: This tool by Ben Mepham and colleagues provides a matrix for comparing stakeholders’ ethical values and interests.

    • Ethical Canvas: A tool by Anaïs Rességuier and colleagues that provides a canvas for mapping the ethical dimensions of a product or service.

  • Engage with diverse stakeholders and experts on the ethical issues that your products and systems may raise. Seek feedback, input, or advice from different groups of people who may be affected by or have expertise on the ethical issues involved. Some ways to engage with stakeholders and experts are:

    • Conduct surveys, interviews, focus groups, or workshops with customers, users, employees, partners, regulators, or civil society organizations.

    • Participate in forums, events, conferences, or networks that bring together people from different sectors, disciplines, or backgrounds to discuss technology and ethics.

    • Consult with ethicists, philosophers, lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, or other professionals who can provide ethical guidance or analysis.

 

Conclusion

Ethical foresight is a valuable skill for managers who want to ensure that their products and systems are innovative, profitable, responsible, and beneficial for society. By keeping up to date with technology and ethics, conducting ethical foresight analysis, and engaging with stakeholders and experts, managers can improve their ethical foresight and make better decisions for the future.

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