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Note: This article is part of a larger series of Q&As that
originated in the future-focused UD Magazine. Additional topics discussed by College of Arts and Sciences faculty members and alumni include self-driving vehicles, dystopian views of the future in pop culture, and the ability to distinguish between real and fake news. To see these and other views of the future, please visit the Envisioning the Future website.
Industries currently throw technologies over the wall and wait for
the consequences to accumulate. The ethical questions are changing
constantly, as technologies change constantly, but clearly new products
will continue to impact our lives. We can ask: Does this product make us
safer? Does it threaten privacy? Will society on the whole be benefited
Perhaps its not so much the questions we ask, but the people and
groups who bother to ask them. A promising, multidisciplinary
conversation has arisen at the intersection of engineering and
philosophy known as ethics of design. Here, teams of experts try to
anticipate problems associated with a new technology so they can design
around them or design to avoid them. Of course, we might also expect
consumers to care about the ethics of new technologies, along with
lawyers, insurers, health-care providers and others.
For instance, in the last few years Ive spoken at two international
conferences focused on driverless cars. Law professors, Artificial
Intelligence experts, transportation planners, sociologists,
philosophers and others from academia and industry discussed everything
from Can we program ethics into an automated vehicle? to How do we
insure a vehicle when theres not a person at the wheel? We must have
these important conversations before large-scale technological changes
Article by Tom Powers, associate professor of philosophy and director of
UDs Center for Science, Ethics and Public
Policy; illustration by Kailey Whitman
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