Progress comes at a price. Although paper fundamentally changed how information was stored and distributed it also contributed to deforestation. Industrialization has not only increased our standard of life but also caused much pollution and, arguably, some social ills. While the internet has many benefits, viral misinformation, privacy erosion, and a decrease in patience among the population are all unintended effects. Side effects are not uncommon in medicine. This is not surprising, as hindsight is always twentytwenty. Rarely is a creator able to predict how their system will be used or what benefits or harm it will bring. Technologists need to take the time to reflect on this before embarking on any project.
Individual Responsibility
You can have a positive impact on society by doing what you love. If you get paid, your work has a minimal value. Respecting the law is a good start. Because not everyone is ethical, laws are often created to enforce ethics. However, laws are often not equal in enforcement against the powerful and lag ethics. Morality is a shared set of values that help us to distinguish right from wrong. You don’t have to do it legally just because you can. There are situations where you can legally do something but are not allowed to do it ethically. Ask Snowden or Trump’s aides under NDA. We voluntarily adhere to ethics because it makes the world better for everyone. Sometimes we can get blinded in our own greed and forget this. It is our responsibility to remind others and, if possible, to stop doing any work that is unethical. I enjoy doing things that are good for me and believe this is a common sentiment. If there is a cost’ to society, then it is time to think about this simple experiment: If I refrain from doing something unethical that would benefit me, am I actually more benefitted if others in society do the same? If the answer is yes then responsible people can conclude that it is better to refrain. If I was watching a movie in the theater and wanted to pick up my wife’s call, it would be smart and beneficial. But if everyone was on their phones, then no one would be able enjoy the movie.
The Future
Information Technology is truly the great democratizer. It is easy to access and has a lower time commitment than other fields. Every day I come to Coding Dojo knowing that the knowledge I share with students will help them be better able provide for their families. In some cases, it can even quadruple their previous salaries. However, this knowledge comes at a price. It’s not free, we charge. Our coding bootcamp graduates have gone on to work at companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and IBM to name a few. My advice to myself and my graduates is that you will rarely find yourself in a situation where the project you are working on is not good. You will often play a small part in something bigger, good or not. Particularly in our field, where we often have a significant impact on so many people around the globe, it is important to think about the overall goals of our work. This includes the project, the company, the nation, and the society. Their company might limit reporting to cases where the perpetrator is on a particular side or if a certain verbiage is used when the perpetrator comes from one side and then use different terminology or strength when violence comes from another side. The company cannot be held responsible for the policies and consequences of lopsided reporting. However, the individual reporting newscaster is responsible for their own reporting. It’s the same for us. Think about what you’re building. Who will use it? What could it be used for? What are the worst-case scenarios for bad-players if they get the technology? And what fail-safes can be put in place to prevent that from happening? Your system could be used to harm, control, or profile other people. Would you feel differently if you were born in a different country? What impact will your project have on the planet? Is your system vulnerable to bias? We are constantly learning from each technological advance and cultural shift.