Compliance in Black Mirror

Black Mirror is a very popular US-UK television science fiction series. It originally aired on Channel 4 in the UK and is now released and broadcasted by the subscription video streaming service Netflix. The series is anthology-style, with short seasons of stand-alone episodes which are like mini films. Most of the episodes of the series touch upon the dominance of and overreach into human life by technology, such as social media, AI, and other advanced, immersive systems and devices. The take offered is quite dramatic, often delving deeply into adverse psychological and sociological effects on modern society, taking a dark and even dystopian perspective.

While all the episodes of Black Mirror do depict a future reality, it is an immediate and accessible reality impacted by technology exceeding that which is currently possible but not so much as to be unthinkable. Indeed, the title of the show, Black Mirror, refers to current technology which is increasingly ubiquitous and addictive – television screens, computer monitors, and smartphone displays. The show both entices with the idea that many of these technological advancements could be convenient or novel or life-enhancing, while also warning that the obsessive and addictive aspects of technology could cause great harm and disruption if not developed and managed thoughtfully and carefully with the risks well in mind.

  • “The Entire History of You” (Series 1, Episode 3): In this episode, a couple struggling with mistrust and insinuations of infidelity make disastrous use of a common biometric – a “grain” implant everyone has that records everything they see, hear, and do. The recordings on the implants can be replayed via “re-dos.” This is used for surveillance purposes by security and management, as the memories can be played to an external video monitor for third parties to watch. Individuals can also watch the re-dos from their implants directly in their eyes, which allows them to repeatedly watch re-dos, often leading them to question and analyse the sincerity and credibility of people with whom they interact. People can also erase the records from their implants, altering the truthfulness of the recordings. This troubles the status of trust and honesty in society which has already in contemporary life been eroded by the influence of the internet.

 

 

 

  • “Be Right Back” (Series 2, Episode 1): In this episode, Martha is mourning her boyfriend, Ash, who died in a car accident. As she struggles to deal with his loss, her friend who has lso lost a partner recommends an online service that allows people to stay in touch with dead loved ones. The service crawls the departed person’s e-mail and social media profiles to create a virtual version of the person. After the machine learning advances enough by consuming and trying enough communications, it can also digest videos and photos by graduating from chatting via instant message to replicating the deceased’s voice and talking on the phone. At its most advanced, the service even allows a user to create an android version of the deceased that resembles him or her in every physical aspect and imitates the elements of the dead person’s personality that can be discovered by the online record. However, in all this there is no consideration given to the data privacy of the deceased person or to his or her consent to be exposed to machine learning and replicated in this manner, including even the physical android form.

 

 

  • “Nosedive” (Series 3, Episode 1): This is one of the most popular, critically-acclaimed episodes of the series, and one of the obvious reasons for this is that it focuses on social media and how it impacts friendships and interactions. The addictive aspects of social media in current times are already a hot topic in design ethics, driving people to question whether social media networks like Facebook or Twitter are good for the people who use them, and where to locate the line between entertainment and a fun way to connect and share, versus a platform with a potentially dark and abusive impact on users. In this episode, everyone is on social media and is subject to receiving ratings from virtually everyone they encounter. These ratings determine people’s standing both on social media and in the real world as well – controlling access to jobs, customer service, housing, and much more. Anxieties and aspirations about ratings drive everything people do and all the choices they make. “Addictive” has been met and surpassed, with social media having an absolutely pervasive impact in everyone’s lives.

 

 

  • “San Junipero” (Series 3, Episode 4): One of the most universally loved episodes of Black Mirror, San Junipero depicts the titular beach town which mysteriously appears to shift in time throughout the decades. Kelly and Yorkie both visit the town and have a romance. San Junipero turns out to be a simulated reality which exists only “on the cloud,” where people who are at the end of their lives or who have already died can visit to live in their prime again, forever if they so choose. In the real world, Kelly is elderly and in hospice care, while Yorkie is a comatose quadriplegic. Both eventually chose to be euthanized and uploaded to San Junipero to be together forever, after getting married first so that Kelly can give legal authorization to Yorkie to pass over. The bioethical considerations of such a reality are clear – in this society, assisted suicide is a legal normalcy, and part of patient care is planning one’s method of death and treatment path after death, which digitalization being a real option. All of the San Junipero simulations exist on huge servers, and judging by how many lights are flickering in the racks this seems to be a popular practice – but what about cybersecurity and information security of the simulations? What if the servers were hacked or damaged? This gives a new meaning to humanity and places an entirely different type of pressure on making sure that technology is used safely and the data stored on it is protected.

 

 

  • “Men Against Fire” (Series 3, Episode 5): This episode concerns the future of warfare in a post-apocalyptic world. Soldiers all have a biometric implant called MASS that augments reality, enhances their senses, and provides virtual reality experiences. One soldier’s implant begins to malfunction and he soon learns that the MASS is in fact altering his senses so that he will not see individuals he is told are enemy combatants as people. It turns out that the soldier is part of a eugenics program practicing worldwide genocide and the MASS is being used to deceive the solders and turn them into autonomous weapons who murder on command due to the augmentations and alterations to reality by the MASS. This storyline falls cannily close to many current concerns about the adoption of autonomous weapons that are not directed or monitored by humans, which are nearly within technological capability to be created and are the subject of international calls for appropriate supervision of and restraint in their development.

 

 

Black Mirror offers many interesting scenarios for analysis of and study by compliance and ethics professionals considering risk management related to the use of technology in organizations and society. As described above, surveillance, data privacy, consent, design ethics, autonomous weapons and other AI, bioethics, and cybersecurity are just a sampling of the issues invoked by episodes of the series.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) describes the cognitive function of machines through technology such as algorithms or other machine learning mechanisms. The very definition of AI places technological devices with this “artificial” knowledge in comparison to and opposition with humans possessing “natural” knowledge. This discipline within technology has been around for more than sixty years and in recent years, is gaining consistent enough momentum that many of its once outlandish ambitions – such as self-driving cars, for example – are current or imminent reality. As computing power advances exponentially and uses for and types of data are ever-growing, AI is becoming ubiquitous in the news of the newest and emerging technological innovations.

As AI sustains and draws on its now considerable basis of achievements to make even more advancements in research and development across many business sectors, ethical and existential dilemmas related to it become more prevalent as well. Returning to that initial dichotomy between artificial or machine intelligence and natural or human intelligence, the design ethics and morality of bestowing human-like thinking ability on devices and networks raise many philosophical questions. Certain uses of AI, such as for autonomous weapons, could even pose safety risks to humans if not developed and directed thoughtfully.

These questions can go on and on; practical ethics represents the attempt to navigate the broad social context of the workplace by reconciling professional rules with moral expectations and norms. This, again, is highly pertinent to a corporate compliance program, which seeks to encourage an business culture that respects legality, approaches business competitively yet thoughtfully, and also sets standards for employee and organizational integrity. It is imperative for compliance professionals to understand practical ethics and use dilemma sessions or open discussions with the businesses they advise in order to encourage a common comfort level with this sort of thinking throughout their organization.

The below TED/TEDx talks emphasize the connection between AI and human life, commonly invoking questions about bioethics, practical ethics, and morality.

  • Artificial intelligence: dream or nightmare? (Stefan Wess) – Stefan Wess, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, provides a helpful primer on the history and current state of artificial intelligence in the contemporary movement of machine education. Big Data, the Internet of Things, machine learning, speech recognition – all these technologies and AI-related topics are already part of daily life. But as this continues to develop, how will organizations and individuals interact with the technology? How should it best be controlled and is it even possible to do so? The many risk implications of AI must be considered as more advanced creations become stronger and closer to reality every day.

 

 

  • Can we build AI without losing control over it? (Sam Harris) – Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris is well-known for his commentaries on the interaction of science, morality, and society. Advanced AI is no longer just theoretical stuff of science fiction and the very distant future. Superintelligent AI – completely autonomous, superhuman machines, devices, and networks – is very close to reality. Technologists, the organizations in which they work, and the communities for which they create must all be conscientious about the development of these technologies and the assessment of the risks they could pose. Contending with the potential problems that stem from creating this very advanced AI needs to be done now, in anticipation of the technology, not later – when it may no longer be possible to control what has been designed and brought to “life.”   Planning, careful control frameworks, and regulatory supervision that balances openly encouraging innovation with soberly considering safety and risk consequences are all necessary to conscientiously embark upon these amazing technological endeavors.

 

 

  • What happens when our computers get smarter than we are? (Nick Bostrom) – In the same vein as the previous talk, one of the consequences of extremely “smart” artificial intelligence is that machine learning could be just as smart as a human being’s knowledge – and then, of course, eventually overtake humans in intelligence. This is alarming because it suggests the potential that humans could introduce their own subservience or obsolescence via machines created to make machines smarter. Again, all participants in developing this technology, including the consumers to whom it is ultimately directed, need to consider their intentions in bestowing machines with thought and balance the various risks carefully. With the ability for independent thought may also come the capacity for judgment. Humans must make an effort to ensure the values of these smart machines are consistent with those of humanity, in order to safeguard the relevance and survival of human knowledge itself for the future.

 

 

  • The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn (Jeremy Howard) – The concept of deep learning enables humans to teach computers how to learn. Through this technique, computers can transform into vast stores of self-generating knowledge. Many people will likely be very surprised to learn how far along this technology is, empowering machines with abilities and knowledge that some might think is still within the realm of fantasy. Productivity gains in application of machine learning have the potential to be enormous as computers can be trained to invent, identify, and diagnose. Computers can learn through algorithms and their own compounding teaching to do so many tasks that will free humans to test the limits of current inventions and to extend human problem-solving far beyond where it already reaches. This is certain to change the face of human employment – already bots and androids are being used for assisting tasks in diverse fields from human resources recruiting to nursing patient care.   Again, the extension of these technologies must be carefully cultivated in order to neutralize the existential threats to human society and life that may be posed by unchecked autonomy of machines and artificial learning. The time to do this is now, as soon as possible – not once the machines already have these advanced capabilities with all the attendant risks.

 

 

  • What will future jobs look like? (Andrew McAfee) – Picking up on the theme of the changing nature of human employment as machines get smarter, Andrew McAfee draws on his academic and intellectual background as an economist to unpack what the impact on the labor market might be. The fear, of course, is that extremely human-like androids will take over the human workforce with their advanced machine intelligence, making humans mostly irrelevant and out of work. The more interesting discussion, however, is not whether androids will take away work from humans but how they may change the kinds of jobs that humans do. Considering and preparing for this reality, and educating both humans and machines accordingly, is imperative to do now.

 

 

Check back here in the future for continuing commentary on AI and its impact on human life and society, including technology and the ethics of knowledge acquisition, as well as more insights on specific AI innovations such as self-driving cars and machine learning.

Taylor Swift and compliance risk management

Taylor Swift is one of the most famous and successful pop music stars of the last decade. She has dominated the charts, the front pages of tabloids, and the trending posts on social media for years, as much for her songs and music videos as for her romantic exploits and friendship feuds. In an era of being famous for being famous, Swift is a special kind of celebrity who presents a public personality that takes deep advantage of this trend while still giving commercial justice to her origins as a country pop singer. In this dichotomy, Swift has both fans and detractors on both sides – those who are enthralled by the mystique of her celebrity image are just as engaged with the public brand of her persona as those who actually have any interest in her music itself at all.

With this source of her visibility on the music charts and in front of the paparazzi camera lens, it is no surprise that Swift has experienced her share of growing pains on the world stage. Swift’s eponymous album was released in 2006 when she was just 16 years old; at the time of her most recent release, Reputation, in November 2017, she was 27 years old. The generational changes any person experiences during the intervening years are transformative on all levels – personality, relationships, career, worldview.

To go through these phases and changes in front of the whole world, means that your choices and their contexts and subtexts are part of a powerful public dialog. A specific aspect of Swift’s fame has been that her fans and detractors alike are preoccupied with parsing the similarities and differences between the public face Swift presents in her music and media appearances and clues for what her private, undiscussed motivations and ambitions might be.

Swift’s public image has been negatively impacted in recent years following several high-profile feuds with other celebrities such as Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian West. Those wishing to question her motives or critique her actions have had plenty of fodder. The contradictions in her established image and her possible schemes and attention-getting frauds have fueled many a comment thread on social media. Swift’s most recent album is therefore aptly named Reputation and takes direct aim at this critical focus about her identity.

The change in Swift’s position in popular media due to the critical reception of what is, in reality, her brand strategy, presents a compelling case study in reputational risk. Even though one’s reputation is based largely on perception or even assumption and innuendo, it has a very real effect on public standing. This is true for Swift who is an individual representing her brand and work, just as it is true for an organization representing its business strategy, product or service line, and client relationships. It is especially amplified by those with a large internet presence, as the nature of online interactions in the digital age is to inspire investigation and critical judgment. As the saying goes, you can never really delete anything from the internet, and that proves true time and again – especially when statements by or images of someone like Swift can generate discussions and debates bigger than the original post ever could have been.

Therefore reputational risk presents a challenge to high-profile individuals and brands that is hard to reconcile with desires for publicity and competitive attention and impossible to control once a controversy or reaction has been ignited, innocently or otherwise. The morality of reputational identity and the necessary efforts to maintain and construct it together create an important exercise in defining and adhering to a strategic, values-based approach.

The changing fortunes and public opinion of a celebrity like Swift can be easily translated to the organizational context, where business entities rely on their public profile and engagement with consumers and stakeholders to maintain competitive edge. Corporate identity and credibility is incredibly valuable and also inestimably vulnerable to reputational risk. Negative news articles, mentions of companies pursuing legal but unpopular business strategies, involvement in politically complicated regions or activities, and other conduct that puts companies on the razor’s edge of popular opinion can have disastrous effect on a brand and its interests.

Management of reputational risk for organizations should take a common sense approach. Compliance training materials often refer to one of two tests: would you want to read about this on the front page of a newspaper, or, would you be comfortable discussing this action in public, say at a dinner party, with someone you admire, like a parent or mentor? If the answer is no then the action or strategy is not advisable. Having the possible public outcome from individual or organizational actions in mind before the activity is undertaken helps to maintain a view on consequences and hopefully, therefore ground the decision in practical ethics.

For a broad take on Taylor Swift and the contemporary value of reputation, check out this opinion piece in the Financial Times.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on practical ethics

Practical ethics is an important and relatable branch of the philosophical study of ethics. As a discipline, it connects academic theory with real-life practice. Practical ethics is most commonly encountered in typical scenarios which are referred to as ethical dilemmas. Ethical dilemmas, which have been discussed at length here on this blog before, often present seemingly simple facts which in reality involve maddeningly complex and fraught moral and personal considerations. When faced with such dilemmas, individuals need to reconcile ethical principles which may be in opposition, as much as they need to rely on those same principles to inform their internal register of right and wrong.

Moral character – this individual internal register – and moral perception – the individual’s capacity to understand that an ethical issue exists and may need to be addressed or accepted – are both rooted in the ongoing observation of practical ethics. Identifying and resolving conflicts between personal ideas of ethics and integrity, and the situations and roles that person may find in a working situation, is a crucial application of practical ethics and a fluency which is necessary for corporate cultures to establish a successful compliance program.

Practical ethics goes to the root of so many dilemmas which are germane to the working experience. What are the limits of professional responsibility? What are the obligations of and restrictions within authority and control? How do interpersonal or relationship-based ethics play out into institutional structures and corporate policies or organizational decision-making? How do individuals work within institutions that may have implemented moral decisions which differ from the person’s own or present the individual with the need to dissent from policy or practice? To what extent should organizations address the public good and how can they do this if they choose to do so?

These questions can go on and on; practical ethics represents the attempt to navigate the broad social context of the workplace by reconciling professional rules with moral expectations and norms. This, again, is highly pertinent to a corporate compliance program, which seeks to encourage an business culture that respects legality, approaches business competitively yet thoughtfully, and also sets standards for employee and organizational integrity. It is imperative for compliance professionals to understand practical ethics and use dilemma sessions or open discussions with the businesses they advise in order to encourage a common comfort level with this sort of thinking throughout their organization.

The below TED/TEDx talks offer a survey of how people approach these conflicts between individual and societal morality on one side and professional ethics within organizations on the other side.

  • Legal vs. Ethical Liability: A Crisis of Leadership and Culture (Mel Fugate) – Very frequently, there are stories in the news that outrage and offend people due to perceived moral trespasses. For example, tax avoidance which is positioned as optimization rather than evasion is not against the law; in fact, corporate structures and arrangements that allow companies to take advantage of this are often sanctioned by national governments and facilitated by law firms. However, whenever information detailing these arrangements is made public, people are always stunned to find they are legal and feel let down by the justice system. So too is this true in any situation where individual or organizational accountability is not strictly required by law and therefore is not implicitly considered in decision-making. The distinction between legal liability and ethical liability reaches to the core of the true character ethic and leadership qualities. An organization which considers ethical liability will have a more transparent and sustainable culture, leading to increased transparency and accountability.

 

 

  • The Significance of Ethics and Ethics Education in Daily Life (Michael D. Burroughs) – The concept of individuals as “everyday ethicists” is powerful and useful. People must first take individual responsibility for approaching and addressing ethical issues. Individual ethical awareness is an unavoidable first step on the journey to a culture of compliance within an organization, or for that matter, increased integrity and honesty within society. It is important to consider an ethics education as foundational for both children and adults, and to establish the role of ethics in everyone’s lives and above all else, encourage discussion and information-sharing.

 

 

  • Ethics for People on the Move (Catharyn Baird) – On the subject of translating individual ethics into a group or collective moral code, individual perceptions of morality can have powerful impact on the ethical identity of a community. Both alongside and beyond business ethics, how is an ethical life defined and how does this contribute to the character of the communities in which we all live? Here the interpersonal aspect of ethical relations, including decision-making, has an especially strong influence.   For that to be successful however, individuals still have to form and commit to an ethical life that is each of their own.

 

 

  • Is your work aligned with your values? (Geoff DiMasi) – As discussed above, one of the challenges of practical ethics is to reconcile the individual sense of morality with ethical decisions implicit in corporate policies and required due to organizational processes. It can be powerful for individuals to consider their purpose, both in life and professionally, and then to question whether the work they do allows them to contribute to this, or asks them to labor in opposition to it. As many organizations turn to social impact and political engagement to establish their corporate identities in a crowded marketplace, individuals would do well to compare their ethical leanings with their professions and the companies with which they are associated.

 

 

  • Why “scout mindset” is crucial to good judgement (Julia Galef) – Scout mindset is an interesting proposition, valuing curiosity, openness, and practicality over defensiveness, heuristics, and routines. Approaching decision-making with this disposition can help to overcome narrow frameworks, habits, and other strong organizational contexts. This can also help people to determine individual integrity and morality, which can contribute to and position them within broader and sometimes challenging societal and corporate structures for ethics and compliance.

 

 

Check back in the coming weeks for further posts on the theory of practical ethics and its application in the corporate context, including discussion on the distinction between ethics and business ethics, as well as that between compliance and corporate compliance.

Starbucks and cultural respect in design as business strategy

Starbucks is one of the most recognizable global retail brands today. Its branding is universally known, with its ubiquitous green and white mermaid logo reliably present worldwide and its slate of coffee and tea products also dependably the same. While many consumers may find consistent branding and the resulting quality standards to be expected along with it comforting, one of the undeniable criticisms of globalization has been that localization – native customs and characteristics that often have deep historic and cultural significance – can end up subverted in favor of international sameness.

Indeed, companies such as Starbucks have struggled in some markets to import their menus and store designs to communities which may be resistant to connecting with what can be seen as a generic, foreign experience. Apart from just lacking appeal or seeming strange, sometimes these companies can offend local norms or fail to fit into the communities which they wish to court for business. While sometimes novelty of a brand can create allure or even cult status for the company’s products with curious consumers, more often, Imposing a company and its products on a community in a non-assimilative way does not likely make for a successful competitive strategy.

Starbucks has faced its challenges importing its distinctive coffee shop brand and products to new communities over the years. Even within the United States, local coffee houses with loyal customer bases have put up resistance to a major corporate brand setting up shop in communities such as Venice Beach, California which have preferred small, local businesses to fit with an indie, alternative vibe. Outside of the United States, the powerful social value of “coffee culture,” representing a social and community activity rather than just a caffeine and snack break, has sometimes not jived well with perceptions of the Starbucks brand. Criticisms of the products themselves come from people who have high expectations for bespoke coffee that they don’t feel Starbucks satisfies or, on the other end, a standard idea that coffee is quick, cheap, and on-the-go only, in light of which Starbucks seems expensive and inconvenient.

One striking way that Starbucks can address these objections is to seek to fit within and contribute to the community authentically and meaningfully. In Kyoto, Japan, the Starbucks Coffee Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Tea Parlor is an amazing example of how a company can demonstrate respect towards a community and its traditions in the design of its public spaces. This Starbucks is located in a traditional wooden house, with subdued colors and branding on its exterior, which fits aesthetically and culturally in the historic neighborhood where it is located. On the inside, the authenticity of the retail experience to its cultural environment continues, with tatami (straw) matting on the floors and traditional Japanese garden in the back courtyard by the coffee bar. Rather than appearing in contrast to the other businesses in its area, this Starbucks blends powerfully into its distinctive surroundings. Starbucks does not seem here like it is trying to impose its brand or style, but rather to show respect for the traditions of the very historic Gion district of Kyoto.

Joining the community in which the store is located, rather than setting itself apart from it, is a powerful expression of social responsibility and engagement for a brand to make as it seeks to attract and appeal to customers. Matching with the experience and aesthetic of such a distinctive area as Gion, which was originally developed as a district in the Middle Ages and is one of the most well-known geisha districts in Japan with the Yakasha Shrine at its center, is a challenging but inspiring business strategy. This values-based approach to growth and design leads to sustainable expansion and competition for a brand such as Starbucks, which can benefit tremendously from positioning itself as sensitive and loyal to local communities and their characters.

For more on this interesting Starbucks outlet as well as Starbucks locations in other countries that aim to honor their communities with their design aesthetic, check out this CNN feature article.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on bioethics

The study of bioethics is rich and varied, always growing in diversity as emerging technologies advance. Bioethical issues have their root in decision-making about research methodology, where academics struggled to define propriety in humans’ exploitation of the natural world – plants and animals – to further science for their own benefits. Bioethics maintains this same ethos today, centered on the link between human interests in and relationship to the sciences, notably including biology and medicine. The inquiries of bioethics extend to a huge swath of topics in within health and human sciences, reflecting the deep reach technological innovations have into everyone’s lives.

First, a word on the relationship between science and morality. In Science can answer moral questions, Sam Harris suggests that the values humans rely upon to define their ethical obligations and moral choices can be seen as facts, which are the foundation of science:

 

 

Harris is a neuroscientist and philosopher who seeks to define the way that ideas about human life are shaped by the physical world in which people live.   People often presume that science cannot answer the existential questions humans consider most compelling, like – what is the meaning or purpose of life? This modern world is continually impacted by technological change, but does science just provoke moral issues, or can it indeed be a force for addressing or solving them? Science is fact-driven and so too can be people’s practical assessments about right and wrong in real life. Therefore science can and should be an authority in the domain of objective fact rather, than only basing these considerations solely on non-concrete intuitions or opinions.

Building upon this presumption that science and ethics do indeed have a powerful mutual dependency, bioethics asks many moral and existential questions germane to this relationship. Animal rights, gene therapy, patient care, bio-engineering, and research methodology are just a few examples of areas where bioethical issues and debates commonly arise. The below TED/TEDx talks are a sampling of how scientists, technologists, and academics confront these challenges in their work and expect that the relationship that science and technology have with law and philosophy will continue to impact human life and society.

  • It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with animals (Lesli Bisgould) – Human relationships with animals are more morally and legally complicated than many people might realize. Living with companion animals is very common and most people would say that they have compassion for animals and feel they should be treated with respect and dignity. However, humans draw unconscious lines between animals they feel are household pets, such as cats or dogs; captive animals they may think exist for educational or entertainment purposes, like whales and dolphins; livestock animals that are part of the industrial food manufacturing supply chain, like cows and chickens; and wild animals that are hunted or poached, like elephants and lions. Why do we make these distinctions and do they have some objective basis in a moral universe? What is the responsibility and response of the law?

 

 

  • Gene Therapy – The time is now (Nick Leschly) – Gene therapy could enable the repair of diseased or damaged cells. With applications from this technology, doctors could cure illnesses and fix injuries for good instead of requiring a lifetime of preventive and prescriptive treatment. This is an advancement that could change medicine forever. However, major funding has historically been hard to attract for research and development in gene therapy because of ethical and religious uncertainties, not to mention the resistance of some individuals and institutions within the traditional medicine establishment. Moral fear, some concrete and others more esoteric, about the dark side of where this technology could take society, even if scientists enter with the best intentions to control against that, have been a financial and ideological barrier to progress.

 

 

  • Transparency, Compassion, and Truth in Medical Errors (Leilani Schweitzer) – The Alexander Pope proverb goes “To err is human, to forgive, divine” – but what about when the human error results in the death of a loved one? How does one forgive when the mistake is that of a professional – such as a doctor? The legal tort system and medical malpractice insurance certainly do not inspire a reaction of kindness from the survivors. However, perhaps truth is the essential element in handling a tragic event such as a medical mistake that leads to catastrophic injury or death. Truth in medicine is important when the mistake occurs, in the form of transparency, accountability, and honest communication. Truth is also important in recovery by the survivors after the mistakes – remedial care, openness, and radical candor that can lead to emotional healing and inspire advocacy. Admitting and facing mistakes is a powerful act of integrity that can never be supplanted by the legal and administrative system in defining patient care responsibilities.

 

 

  • It’s time to question bio-engineering (Paul Root Wolpe) – As this blog often espouses, the best time to address moral or integrity questions and consider implementing a code of ethics that will be sustainable for the future, is universal: as soon as possible. There’s no time too soon to think about the foundations of integrity in any area of society, especially when it comes to science and developing technology. In the field of bio-engineering, technology has already advanced quite far to do things like selective or hybrid breeding of animals, modification of food products, and the creation and manipulation of artificial cells. Regulation has become controversial as an obstacle to advancement. The presumption goes that making rules or laws that cover the scope of people’s work in a scientific area will stifle their innovation. This does not have to be true if a moral code is built into the knowledge acquisition process from the beginning. Progress and ethics are not naturally at odds and do not have to be positioned as antagonistic to each other in pursuit of scientific discovery, but to let either take dominance over the other is short-sighted and dangerous.

 

 

  • Trust in research – the ethics of knowledge production (Garry Gray) – The work of research scientists weighs heavily on consumer and public safety. Most of the goods people use on an everyday basis have been the product of a prolonged research and development process, which laypeople assume has been conducted with accuracy as the principle interest and free of biases. However, this is far from true in practice. Corporate funding and institutional agendas all have great influence on scientific research. People are well aware of the possible danger of these influences, which are nevertheless necessary for work to be done, but the deeper problem is that the researchers themselves may believe they are able to naturally maintain independence as a function of their expertise. In reality, no conflict of interest risk management mechanism can be effective if it only exists within a person’s head. Sensitively and sensibly managing these conflicts and the biases they create is very important work that must be responsively and proactively done to support research scientists in their endeavors.

 

 

Check back in the coming weeks for further posts on bioethics, including a look at current trends in corporate compliance issues arising from bioethical debates in the scientific research and medical fields, further discussion of bioethics as it relates to artificial intelligence, and insights on the larger interrelationship between technology and ethics of knowledge acquisition, engineering, and design.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on self-driving cars

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post on current compliance trends in the emerging autonomous vehicle technology industry, the below is a collection of videos from TED and TEDx talks about self-driving cars. The possibilities of this technology at this point, its infancy, seem almost infinite. The impact autonomous cars could have on modern society and culture are fascinating to contemplate; it seems like this technology could disrupt and indeed improve people’s lives in many ways.

First, a primer on the technical basics of the self-driving car systems that are under development now, and the machine learning and artificial intelligence technology that will be imperative to make it practical and affordable, from Self-Driving Cars of The Near Future (Raquel Urtasun).

Of course, along with the tremendous potential of this autonomous vehicle technology also comes risks and decisions that must be carefully and thoughtfully made with compliance and ethics considerations in mind. In developing a technology that will have such a wide-reaching impact on so many people, both those who use it and those who do not personally do so, it is critically important to have in mind from the beginning all the interests concerned and how those might be conflicting or impacted.

  • Autonomous ride toward a new reality (Limmor Kfiri) – The benefits of self-driving cars must be taken alongside the issues and ethical dilemmas they prompt. In considering these challenges – which include, for example, cybersecurity risk in the possibility that someone could remotely hack a car’s self-driving technology system and take over control of the steering or brakes from the human inside it – creative approaches for handling the problems without stifling the technology are necessary. Governments and individuals who are involving in the designing phase can have a huge impact from the beginning in this effort.

 

  • The Overlooked Secret Behind Driverless Cars (Priscilla Nagashima Boyd) – There are many very practical problems of driving that technologists hope self-driving vehicles can help to address. For example, which route to select for the best commute or where to find a parking spot are all decisions people must make when driving now that semi-autonomous or autonomous driving systems could take care of in the future. However, with these conveniences there are some serious potential effects to privacy. People must ask themselves whether they are comfortable with location sharing, for example, something which has been an uncomfortable subject for some with social media or smartphone apps already. This may require a change in attitude and expectations toward privacy, and a heightened trust in technology, that during this time of cybersecurity breaches and leaks, some people are not so eager to normalize.

 

  • What’s the perfect driverless car? It depends on who you ask (Ryan Jenkins) – Design ethics and artificial intelligence meet in the development of the technology for autonomous vehicles. Technologies which can so deeply impact human life – such as smartphones, software algorithms, and indeed self-driving cars – bring with them many moral questions about what the character of and oversight on that impact might be. Any technology which can transform the way people live can do so helpfully or harmfully. Therefore, designers, engineers, lawmakers, and compliance and ethics professionals must collaborate to ensure that autonomous vehicles are produced so that they will meaningfully and positively shape human lives.

 

  • Are we ready for driverless cars? (Lauren Isaac) – Maybe the technology for driverless cars is great, but what if humans are the ones who are not ready? Like all systems, it can be designed with all the necessary controls and considerations in mind to make it as safe as possible, but if people do not use it appropriately or with good intentions then everything can go wrong. If people are not prepared to share with each other as well as redefine some of their inflexible ideas about ownership and control, then the technology will struggle to succeed in its bolder ambitions for society as a collective. Lawmakers and regulators can intervene early to ensure the philosophical intention of the driverless vehicle includes that people are safe and their interests are served, rather than neglected or abused, by the technology.

 

  • Are we ready for the self-driving car? (Tyron Louw) – While the previous lecture addresses people’s behavioral capability to handle self-driving car technology, in their attitudes and their openness to change and responsibility, this one focuses on people’s performance capacity. People are often frustrated when their laptops freeze or their phones have a dead battery – how will they react in the moment if a self-driving car has a technical malfunction? How can driverless vehicles be designed to take into account the possibility that the unsafe part of a self-driving car is the human driver in or near it?

 

The potential of the technology for autonomous vehicles, as expressed in these lectures and many others, is so striking, that it would be an inexcusable loss to not manage its growth and advancement in a way that ensures its sustainability. In the absence of regulatory action, and with tremendous respect for and power to the unchecked ambition of innovation, organizations and individuals working in this space must takes a value-based approach to developing, testing, and launching this technology. This way, its risks and challenges can be properly controlled against, and its greatness can be realized.

Selected TED & TEDx talks on ethical dilemmas

An ethical dilemma is a problem in decision-making between two or more possible choices which involve conflicting interests and challenging possible consequences. Often this can be understood as a scenario in which making one decision has an impact on the interests involved in the other decision(s) not made. Choosing to not make a decision is also, in its own right, a choice which implies these consequential dynamics. The below TED/TEDx talks are a sampling of some different dilemmas encountered and the ways that the speakers have thought about and attempted to resolve them.

  • The ethical dilemma of designer babies (Paul Knoepfler) – Biotechnology which was once the stuff of science fiction is now becoming an everyday reality, or at least a possibility that is easy to imagine for the not-so-distant future. For many years now there have been ethical questions about the use of gene editing technology in human embryos. This could allow scientists to mitigate the risk of certain auto-immune or congenital diseases, which would be a marvel of modern medicine. However, it could also make the way for individuals to use the technology to also alter physical appearance and pre-determine many of a person’s traits, perhaps also eventually personality characteristics. What answers does bioethics have for this dilemma? Is it worth the risks, too dangerous to justify the benefits, or somewhere in between – a technology that should be progressively and thoughtfully developed with both those risks and those benefits in careful balance?

 

  • Can we engineer the end of ageing? (Daisy Robinton) – While the prior talk considers the beginning of life, there are also bioethical considerations to scientific advancements made concerning the end of life also. Just as there can be cellular interventions on the biological makeup of embryos, therapeutic mechanisms of stem cell identity may already be useful in increasing longevity and health, such as by reversing the growth of cancerous cells or addressing other developmental diseases. However, what about the possibly to “edit” one’s DNA not for survival or to cure a sickness, but to improve capabilities or change aesthetic qualities? If some physiological differences are editable at the cellular then is it ethical to do so?

 

  • The Social Dilemma of Driverless Cars (Iyad Rahwan) – Self-driving cars have been in the news a lot recently as leading organizations such as Ford, General Motors, Tesla, and even Samsung are making major investments in developing field. In the US, the federal government has indicated that it prefers to let technological innovation take precedence over anticipatory regulation, perhaps taking lessons learned from the initial failure of the electric car industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. The artificial intelligence of self-driving cars is ethically challenging, in consideration that these driverless vehicles will share the road with pedestrians and conventional vehicles. Will they be safer than cars with human drivers, or do they bring up all kinds of new safety and privacy concerns?

 

  • Machiavelli’s Dilemma (Matt Kohut) – More to the point of typical everyday interactions than the abstractions of the limits of medicine and technology, what about character judgments? The classic question remains – do we want to be loved or feared? Liked or respected? Most people of course would say some combination of both, but in first impressions or in difficult leadership situations, sometimes the choice to be one at the expense of the other is unavoidable.

 

  • The paradox of choice (Barry Schwartz) – The thing of all these different dilemmas have in common is, of course, choices that individuals, organizations, and sometimes society as a whole must make. Facing the responsibility of making a choice indicates that there is freedom of choice in the first place. The privilege of decision-making can also be a burden. One must be able to decide in the beginning in order to feel some sense of personal dissatisfaction or insufficiency provoked by the idea that other choices, and other outcomes could have been possible.

 

As the above demonstrates, there are many diverse examples of ethical dilemmas which come from all areas of business and life. This effectively points out how ubiquitous these challenging situations are. From simple, everyday interactions to matters of life and death, ethical dilemmas present challenging, compelling moral questions.

Corporate compliance and “the arc of the moral universe”

It is one of the most frequently-used and beloved quotes for champions of progressive values: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This famous line from Dr. Martin Luther King espouses a certain determinism, from nature or faith, that morality favors fairness and the truth in the end, even if it takes a long time and a lot of effort to get there.

Perhaps further motivation behind these words can be sussed out by understanding the original lines by which Dr. King’s statement was inspired. The older quote comes from Theodore Parker, a 19th century minister and abolitionist. He stated, in full: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

Parker was also a Transcendentalist scholar who wrote prolifically on the subject of justice and the conscience, and the sanctity of the rights of all people in the service of those virtues. In Parker’s view, then, justice can be elusive or disappointing, but it is unequivocally a moral force, and progress toward it, however slow and halting, is a high state of being for people and governments. In light of Parker’s remark, Dr. King’s words indicate that individuals alone cannot be definitively satisfied that society will become universally just, but this should not dissuade them from their commitments to their ideals or their personal responsibilities to uphold them, in both private and public.

However reachable this sentiment may seem to be (or not be) over history and in practice, this idea can still provide inspiration to those wishing to positively impact the journey toward a just society. Individuals, for example, may take this concept as a reinforcement of personal conviction, the kind which is passed down over generations in pursuit of an ideal. Organizations such as political action committees, community groups, or charitable organizations may see as a direct call to diligent and persistent public activism with the goal of societal change, often enforced by legal action.

But what about corporations? The concept of the corporation as a legal “person” is always controversial in contemporary society because it conveys rights and protections on companies that many feel should be limited to natural persons only. However, with this designation comes responsibilities and obligations also, and not just ones that may be important in a courtroom. Corporations can do their own part to positively impact progressive toward justice by adopting business values that elevate morality and encourage organizational and employee commitments to integrity and fairness.

  • Social responsibility sells: As companies compete in the ever-crowded global marketplace, price and product are far from the only deciding factors between success and failure with consumers. Companies are now putting their social responsibility interests at the forefront. This shows up in their business values that they communicate to their employees as well as their advertising, corporate branding, and strategy that they bring to the market and identify themselves with to their customers. Consumers want strong personal associations with companies when they have many choices for retailers or service providers. Embracing social responsibility and commitment to progress, inside and outside of organizations, gives corporations a competitive edge and a striking identity that helps them to stand out and be remembered.
  • Representation is key: It is well known that the workplace has much improvement to do before it starts to even appear as diverse as society is outside of the office. Representation at all employee levels, from starters to executive boards, is important in the efforts toward inclusion. In order to aspire for equality and diversity, people of all backgrounds need to first be present and practically included. Then the real effort for change can happen, where this truly representative group can start to work together toward the integrated, equitable type of collaboration and open access that is still lacking from many broader communities and discussions in the world in general.
  • …but tokenism is toxic: In order to support this ambition, however, obstacles must truly be removed, and merit and performance have to be the standards by which people are promoted and co-working is established. Representation in name only, or to fulfil an appearance, is empty and non-progressive. Companies must commit against token inclusion and truly seek to integrate and cooperate authentically. Only then can responsible corporate citizens inspire in the world the changes they see in themselves.
  • Transparency fosters a more equitable working environment: As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Open processes at a corporation will lean more easily toward equitable outcomes for employees and consumers. Unethical management decisions are easier to take and justify if they are concealed and never need to be explained. Having to reconcile the interests and feedback of others, however, helps toward mitigating unfairness. There will always be some amount of bold intolerance or exclusion, just as there will always be a few bad apples. However, it’s much more productive to focus on the decision-making that can be nudged toward a positive viewpoint and those people who will do good things when they are appropriately informed and supported to do so.
  • Integrity promotes sustainability: Sustainability – not the type that encourages re-using recycled coffee cups or only printing documents if it’s really necessary, but the type that focuses on longevity and sensibility of business practices and relationships – is, like social responsibility, a key competitive advantage. Integrity as a main business strategy shows that organizations value their relationships and want to make the right decisions not just for their profit, but for their partners and the future. In this sense, a strong moral code for business values represents both an investment in the aims of justice as well as a preparation for success.

For further contemplation on the concept of the moral universe and its predisposition to justice, and the nature of humans within this, amidst the challenges of the secular world and the frustrations of the individual, Theodore Parker’s “Of Justice and The Conscience” from his Ten Sermons of Religion is a powerful and interesting text.

The Office and culture of non-compliance

The Office is a very popular US television comedy series, based on a UK series of the same name. It follows the daily lives of the employees working in the Scranton branch office of a paper company. Filmed as a “mockumentary,” to imitate the style of a documentary, the show features many “interviews” with the employees and management. While it does address things in their private lives and personal relationships between the characters, most of the action of the show occurs in the workplace and is based around the dynamic of the characters as colleagues and employees.

In this light, the show offers many interesting insights and tropes about the experiences of working in a small or branch office, with an eccentric boss and idiosyncratic colleagues, dealing with policies from head office and the challenges of working together effectively. Scenarios relevant to compliance are touched upon often in the series, frequently showing examples of very poor management practices or problematic cultural values.

  • “Sexual Harassment” (Season 2, Episode 2): In this episode, the office’s HR personnel are providing sexual harassment refresher training and reviewing policies after an incident at corporate headquarters. Instead of setting a tone at the top to reinforce how important a respectful and safe working environment should be, and how inappropriate harassing behavior of any kind is, the manager Michael Scott has a tantrum and makes light of the importance of the policies. He never embraces his duty as a leader to model positive behavior; even when he defends one of his staff against the rude joke of another, it is accompanied by an improper comment of his own, as he misses the opportunity to step up and reinforce a culture of compliance.

 

  • “WUPHF.com” (Season 7, Episode 9): In the cold open of this episode, the power goes out in the office and the server goes down. Instead of having reliable disaster recovery procedures on hand or a controls framework that would enable business continuity in this sort of situation, the staff must resort to guessing the password as a group. Obviously this is not advisable in light of critical cybersecurity concerns which face all businesses today, especially small offices such as this one which might be assumed to have weaker controls and be targeted by intruders hoping to gain access to the larger company network.

 

Actually, the “WUPHF.com” episode, in its entirety, is another good example of poor compliance practices. Ryan Howard, with Michael’s encouragement and financial backing, claims that he has devised a web-based messaging system called WUPHF.com. In reality, Ryan is committing a fraud, in that the website does not function (despite his attempts to advertise to the contrary) and the only purpose for it is to try to sell off the domain name. Instead of uncovering and disclosing this fraud, and protecting the other investors, Michael backs Ryan. Though he later withdraws his support for Ryan, the fraud is allowed to continue because Michael does not step up and see beyond the conflict of interest posed by his personal relationship with Ryan in order to act on behalf of the investors as he could do.

 

  • Scott’s Tots (Season 6, Episode 12): In surely one of the more cringe-worthy moments for Michael Scott – that’s saying a lot – he fails to keep the promise he made years before to pay college tuition for a group of lower-income children. Upon their high school graduation, he must confess that he has not upheld the duty to them that he created with his promise. Instead, he apologies and tries to give them batteries as a conciliatory gesture. Apart from the terrible awkwardness of the concept itself (this episode aired in December 2009, deep within the global financial crisis, an uncomfortable time to try to address financial fraud humorously), it’s unfortunate, and a sign of weak leadership, that Michael doesn’t seem to acknowledge at all the reliance upon his integrity he created by making that commitment.

 

  • The Incentive (Season 8, Episode 2): In the absence of Michael Scott, his former employee and now new office branch manager Andy Bernard is proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to insufficiently ethical leadership. Andy finds himself at a loss for how to motivate his employees and decides to create a points-based incentive system to encourage their performance. Rather than appealing to their values or accepting lower performance in exchange for more sustainable and strategic efforts, Andy chooses a management method which will yield only short-term, temporary improvement or engagement.

From the above it is abundantly clear that The Office does not depict a corporate culture of compliance or a values-based approach to business strategy. Rather, it shows a company that is run, at least in the Scranton branch, with an ethos of non-compliance in the workplace.