The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which with 420,000 members forms the largest engineering association in the world, published a standard on Wednesday for taking ethical values into account when designing technical systems. According to the organization, the IEEE 7000-2021 standard is intended to support technical developers in communicating transparently with selected interest groups, thus helping to determine ethical values from the outset and give them priority.
Measurable ethics concepts
The selected ethical concepts and ideas are based on the “I triple E” using the standard also measurable and traceable through an operating concept in the system design. This is relevant for all sizes and types of organizations that work with their own product life cycles.
The New York-based association explains that companies in particular have the central concern of avoiding risks. Companies that focused only on physical damage, however, “did not get a complete picture of the experience an end user had with the product they developed”. Above all, autonomous systems with artificial intelligence (AI), which are spreading into more and more products and services, are driven by algorithms. These are invisible to the user, but have “profound effects on their data, identity and values”.
These dimensions have not always been in the foreground in technology development, the IEEE complains: “Despite the best intentions of a manufacturer, a design process becomes without a methodology for analyzing and checking how an end user interprets a product, a service or a system, its values Put creators in the foreground. ” Responsible innovation in the age of algorithms therefore requires a value-based methodology from conception that complements traditional system design.
In Europe, developers and users have become familiar with the principle of “Privacy by Design” anchored in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) at the latest. The IEEE now wants to go one step further and not only have data protection, but also other ethical considerations built directly into the technology (“Ethics by Design” or “Value-based Engineering”).
That’s what the organization does ten principles of action set up. Accordingly, it is about assuming responsibility for the extended system landscape, honestly integrating critical interest groups into the development process, as well as context-sensitive and continuous observation and anticipation of the system’s development. Ethical and moral principles should be used to recognize which values are integrated.
Don’t just think about profit
“Working with IEEE 7000 helps companies to rearrange their innovation processes,” explained Sarah Spiekermann to heise online. The head of the Institute for Information Systems and Society at the Vienna University of Economics and Business played a key role in promoting work on the standard and is hoping for a “flagship standard” comparable to ISO 9000. Most innovation projects, according to her, now have a digital component: “This requires developers ask themselves which human and social values they want to implement with their technology – beyond the pure profit idea. “
The IEEE standard should help “to create the next generation of technologies for the benefit of the people – and not for the benefit of the few power holders in surveillance capitalism”, emphasizes the ethics expert. “The developer community started in the 1990s to build a good world. We have to get back there.”
Specifically, the norm could have helped to prevent the excesses of hate speech and manipulation on social networks and thus possibly even Brexit or the election of Donald Trump, believes Spiekermann. Breaks in privacy caused by naked scanners at airports would probably have been avoidable with a standard development. One Case study with a Unicef project in Africa have shown that the norm applies. With the ethical approach, the developers did not simply develop an algorithm to identify young talent, but built a community platform for mutual and local support of young people.