Information and Communication Technology Ethics and Social Responsibility

Information and Communication Technology Ethics and Social Responsibility

Tomas Cahlik (Charles University Prague, Czech Republic & University of Economics Prague, Czech Republic)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch426
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Introduction

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have penetrated during the last 20 years all human activities everywhere on the Earth. Humanity has entered into the information age, virtual reality and even virtual worlds have been crated.

The basic ethical questions stay as they have always been: How are we to live? What are we to be? Basic answers are, of course, that we ought to live good lives and be good persons.

The aim of this article is:

  • To specify what “living a good life” and “being a good person” could be in the information age;

  • To identify some challenges and opportunities ICTs offer in this context.

Having absolutely stabilized basic questions and basic answers makes the methodology of ethics quite different from the methodology in sciences. In sciences, one starts with a thorough review of previous research, specifies some new and interesting research question, makes hypotheses about possible answers and bases argumentation on data. In ethics, one reflects problems of the current age in a mirror that was created centuries ago and has been polished by many ethical reflections ever since. Forms of ethical texts are rich: dialogs, even poems, but the most used form is an essay.

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Background

Literature review in research articles is used for showing that the research described in the article fits into research themes that are interesting for contemporary research community. Literature review in ethical reflections is used differently, just for illustration of ideas that have been published in the area of interest and for “opening the scene”.

Looking into the Web of Science database in September 2015 and using keywords “information technology”, “ethics” and “social responsibility” 60 entries are obtained (from that 55 articles or conference proceedings), 31 entries being published since 2010. This reveals not high but steady and increasing activity on the interdisciplinary border between ICTs and that part of ethics that is linked to social responsibility.

Looking closer into the content of those articles, following themes can be identified in the last decade:

  • Ethical questions linked with the creation and use of “big data”, including creation of agreed standards of good practice - e.g. (Rizk&Choueiri, 2006), (Light,& McGrath, 2010), (Celen, & Seferoglu, 2013);

  • Development of sustainable information society - e.g. (Tsai&Chen, 2013), (Busch, 2011), (Niemela&Ikonen&Leikas&Kantola&Kulju&Tammela&Ylikauppila, 2014) in the sense of an inclusive and environmentally friendly society; application of precautionary principle in the development of ICTs (Som&Hilty& Kohler, 2009);

  • Corporate social responsibility of both ICT suppliers and users – e.g. (Tsai&Chen, 2013), (Busch, 2011), (Vaccaro&Madsen, 2009), including suggestions for standards of good practice (Patrignani&Whitehouse, 2014) and how to enable consumers to push companies to behave ethically with the use of ICTs (Watts& Wyner, 2011);

  • University social responsibility (Arntzen, 2010); new teaching and learning culture based on ICTs (Stepien, 2010).

This indicates research activity that is driven by applications and can be contrasted with the research activity from the years before, that was pushed by theoretical considerations. (Lianos, 2000) e.g. starts with sociological concepts and identifies the threat that ICTs can atomize society through making development of personal trust obsolete. Lianos uses credit card as an example: one does not need to be trusted by the provider of money, the only thing that is relevant is the validity of the card. Technical norms replace moral and social norms.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Existential Philosophy: Branch of Philosophy that starts with individual existence and the problem of its being in the World. Important predecessor was Søren Kierkegaard (19th century), among main representatives we can find Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre (both 20th century). They looked for authentic existence and have found different solutions depending especially on the religiosity of the specific philosopher.

Virtual Reality: Created and accessed by ICTs. It usually overlaps with “reality” but the overlapping is changing and fuzzy. Extremes of Virtual Reality are Virtual Worlds, in which “avatars” of humans can live parallel lives.

Casuistry: Branch of ethics that uses case studies to make clear moral principles and norms in typical situations. All ethical codes specify some norms of conduct. These norms are usually explained with the use of different case studies.

Virtue Ethics: Branch of Ethics that considers humans as being bearers of given or developed virtues. Humans have to develop virtues and fight with vices for becoming good. Basic concepts go back as far as to Plato and Aristotle (5th, 4th century BCE).

Ethics of Norms: Branch of ethics that analyses the structure of norms and what they are based on.

Norms: Norms are the shared and sanctioned rules. Sanctions can be both formal (e.g. law) and informal (e.g. pressure of social group).

Ethics: Practical philosophy, scientific analysis of moral contents.

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