Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on the ethics of right and wrong

Traditional discussions of morality have often focused on dichotomies of good and bad, virtuous and evil, right and wrong.  This polarized thinking simplifies the world into opposing absolutes.  In this view, all people and all conduct stand on one side or other of an imaginary line.  Bad people are responsible for all evil actions and wrong decisions, whereas good people should always be expected to behave in a virtuous manner and to make the right choices.  This views resigns any hope of someone who is judged “bad” making positive contributions to the world or being expected to have integrity; these people must be controlled against, excluded, and blamed when events take the wrong turn.  Good people, on the other hand, are subject to straying from their presumably natural interest in behaving with integrity and must be prevented from doing so and punished if this ever happens, followed by being re-judged as bad if they do not respond to punitive and remedial treatment.

The limiting and unrealistic expectations of such a system are clear.  In practice, this retrograde view can have chilling effect on a truly progressive understanding of organizational integrity and dynamics or any true restorative justice for individuals.  Unfortunately, rules-based systems tend to produce these polarized, inflexible views.  Mandatory compliance with its roles and responsibilities and reliance on policies and procedures can have such an outcome.  Of course, the law, internal requirements, and regulatory expectations often do follow a bright line and so adherence to these expectations is as straightforward as a yes or a no.  However, this strict structure must be supported by a more dynamic and realistic system of values and principles.  Only then can the culture of compliance reflect the true nature of people and their choices and actions, which are all much more complex than a choice between two contrasting modes.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on privacy and reputation

In an increasingly inter-connected and digital society, challenges to privacy and reputation are frequent.  Even before social media put everyone at constant pressure to “overshare,” when people’s very personal details were not always a quick Google search away, privacy was still under threat.  A person’s visibility and public representations are often judged and demanded for credibility and honesty evaluations performed by employers, potential partners, members of the community, and even complete strangers.  Giving up privacy in favor of radical openness may be the way some reality stars have attained their celebrity, but for many people this feels invasive and like a violation of security.

In a broader sense, people’s individual privacy settings in terms of what they wish to share or disclose, how, and to whom, have a direct bearing on reputation.  Cultural practices around privacy and information sharing can give rise to serious reputational risk that impacts individuals and communities and frays the social fabric in which transparency is desirable or even possible.  These norms and ethical expectations are intensified in the digital age, where an individual’s personal information can never truly be deleted or taken back once it is made public.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on integrity

Integrity as both a personal and an organizational value is one of the central and recurring themes of this blog. Promoting and supporting integrity in individuals as well as in the groups in which they live and work is essential to encouraging cultures of compliance and ethical decision-making. Indeed, the foundation of the moral conduct people wish to see in each other and in their institutions in order to enhance the stature of truth and honesty in today’s complicated, interconnected world starts with placing personal emphasis on integrity and character ethic. With a strong and well-articulated individual commitment to moral engagement, people can purposefully contribute to the integrity of the communities in which they live, the groups in which they gather, and the organizations in which they work.

  • Aligning integrity with identity (Lester Tanaka) – Commitment to any character ethic value must be authentic. A person cannot decide to have integrity without actually embracing the honesty, judgment, fairness, transparency, and credibility that goes along with possessing this trait. Claiming to have it, without actually genuinely imbedding it, goes against the grain of the entire concept of integrity itself. Therefore individuals must, as Lester Tanaka suggests, make concrete and meaningful for themselves the interrelationship between the mental and the moral. A person’s identity should be aligned with and connected to the value of integrity and their intention to live with it. Therefore, all the other traits for which an individual has an affinity should be consistent with the goal of integrity. Self-examination and self-reflection will be both necessary to identify these corresponding characteristics as well as important for thoughtful and organic personal integrity.



  • Integrity as a currency for leadership (Barth Nnaji) – Integrity is also a core value for leadership. When faced with opposition or adversity, challenge or doubt, ethical leaders can always rely upon their integrity to represent themselves as credible, rise above the fray, and maintain a firm grip on ethical standards for decision-making and conduct. One of the differences between a manager and an ethical leader is, in fact, this commitment to their sense of integrity and the feeling of a strong responsibility to resist negative temptation or becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of their tasks. True leaders stick to their own values and indeed promote their own integrity as the “currency” needed to get things done in collaboration with other people and organizations. Leaders who consider their reputations as one of their main assets would seek to protect the way they are seen by others by staying true to the expectations for their credibility and reliability. This way, people who lead with integrity become people with whom others wish to be associated, compared, and involved.



  • Building integrity – keeping promises (Erick Rainey) – Establishing integrity does not have to be an academic or theoretical challenge with abstract and lofty metrics by which its success is measured. Having integrity is as simple as keeping promises. Walking the walk, taking responsibility, and following through are simple but incredibly impactful actions which, when repeated, establish a pattern of integrity and worthiness of trust and reliance. This goes for individuals as well as for organizations. Delivering on commitments or being honest and transparent about it when it’s not possible to do so puts the value of integrity into powerful action.



  • Integrity and authenticity don’t make you trustworthy (Struan Robertson) – As noted in this earlier post, expectations for and ideas about trust, honesty, and the truth are all being transformed by today’s digital society. Shifting moral evaluations and perceptions of what is or is not true too often promote a convincing and compelling brand of dishonesty over difficult or complicated truth. In this environment there are many complex factors against true credibility and integrity. Simply appearing to be “good” or wanting to identify others as “evil” is not sufficient. Being relied upon is also not the same as being trusted or trustworthy.   As discussed above, commitment to integrity has to be both authentic and practical. An individual and all the individuals which make up organizations have to have an organic, real commitment to integrity in order to truly act with it, rather than to just pretend or attempt at it.


  • Integrity and the Life of the Planet (Zale Zeviar) – Apart from the integrity of individuals in both private life and the work place, corporate integrity is so important in society’s attempts to solve huge challenges, such as making environmentally-friendly consumer choices. The transparency and openness that acting with integrity and moral certitude can bring is also applicable to business core values. Accountability for earth-friendly business practices and products is just one expression of corporate social responsibility that exhibits business integrity. Small changes by consumers can be enabled by community and business values which can help the whole system to aspire to a higher level of integrity. This “corporate consciousness” is an active expression of integrity that spreads, aligning all the players in the chain universally around integrity as the common theme.

As shown above, defining integrity as a core value in all areas of life – self-identification, leadership, relationships with others, community engagement, social responsibility – is a powerful, purpose-driven approach. A commitment to recognizing integrity as a virtue and using a strong internal sense of its importance for one’s personal moral code enables individuals to be credible and responsible and to model these values to each other. With time, institutions and organizations will reflect the integrity promoted by the individuals within them, elevating the ethical register of society.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on justice and ethics

One of the most poignant and timeless discussions related to ethics is the concept of justice. Justice is the measurement of fairness and is defined by theories which vary wildly between and within cultures and countries. Administration of fairness is as crucial to ethics as are, for example, other fundamental ideas of morality such as trust and honesty. Theories of justice may focus on equal distribution, individual treatment, societal consequences, or even punishment and reparations. These differing theories all have their own foundation in a culture’s ethical values and are then impacted by historical events, jurisprudence, or religious beliefs in a variety of ways. Even though justice is so varying and individual, efforts toward and desires for it are indeed universal, and the ethical fundamentals of its moral pursuit are shared as well.

  • Justice is a decision (Ronald Sullivan) – Wrongful convictions are a particularly distressing and compelling example of injustice and need for justice-based reform within the legal system. If an innocent person is incarcerated, he or she is unjustly deprived of freedom, and the victim of the underlying crime misses out on true restoration or reparations as well. Ronald Sullivan argues for the importance of advocacy as the defining competency and mission of criminal law attorneys, especially public defenders. Working as an advocate with the mission of serving justice and ensuring that the individuals in a case are not subjected to injustice positions lawyers to address a moral good and employ the most ethical mode of legal representation.



  • Errors of justice (Asbjørn Rachlew) – Related to the above, wrongful convictions have an obvious striking and lasting impact on the innocent people who are sentenced to jail for crimes they do not commit. In this talk, Asbjørn Rachlew discusses wrongful convictions from the perspective of a police superintendent, especially focusing on those which included false confessions and intense, coercive investigations. From this perspective, Rachlew delves into the root causes for these errors of justice, helping the wrongfully convicted to see the reasons outside of themselves for their injustice as well as helping police and other authorities to understand their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions. For any moral society, thinking about the impact of these errors and the very real damage that can be done to humans because of injustice is a necessary ethical consideration and one that should lead to reform and better practices to ensure that justice is a higher priority.



  • Why Justice Isn’t Enough (Barry Schwartz) – Justice and morality go hand in hand. For a society to be considered moral or on the “good” side between right and wrong, justice must be a respected virtue. A just society is an ethical society. In most cases, this is clearly represented by a distributive system of justice where people deserve what they get and get what they deserve. Both of these outcomes may seem rare to many people, at least from a perception perspective. Indeed, in education, jobs, social standing, and material success of all kinds, people that are seen as having merit often go without while others who appear less deserving or have not worked diligently toward goals nonetheless get everything they could want anyway. The differentiating factor is sometimes just luck. Therefore considering and appreciating the importance of luck could increase social justice and administration of fairness and equitable treatment between individuals who are just as deserving as one another but haven’t been as lucky.



  • What is Fair and What is Just? (Julian Burnside) – What is the role of moral response in justice? What ethical responsibility do individuals and their communities have do something when confronted with injustice? This starts with defining fairness and justice. Just as people must have internal moral codes and ethical registers in order to have any ability to contribute to organizational ethics and integrity within groups, communities, or countries, people must also have individual definitions for and understandings of fairness and justice. Sensitivity to unfairness, and concern with fairness and justice, is an ultimate expression of compassion and a high moral value. The struggle for justice is universal, and is plagued by differing interests and values as well as the desire of many to not engage in confronting difficult or distressing situations, but sincere efforts toward it must be made by ethical individuals.


  • What if justice was something we felt (Ardath Whynacht) – The role of compassion in justice is a powerful evocation of the morality of striving for fairness. As demonstrated in the above talks, there are complicated forces that work against understanding and achieving justice. However, the social and ethical benefits of the effort to all involved are great enough to justify trying. Perhaps justice is more appealing and concrete of a goal if people approach it from a compassionate, humanistic perspective rather than from a legal or abstract wealth and rights distribution basis. Seeing justice from an emotional perspective, and acknowledging its restorative and connecting power, can transform the incentives in society to seek it.

In application, justice and the ethics of its interpretation and attempts to reach it in society is a major topic in the modern legal system, with the actions and decisions of lawyers, judges, and parties to cases all having major influence on the execution of different efforts toward fairness. Individual entitlements, such as to property, other wealth, basic goods, and social status, are also distributed with questions of equal rights or arrangement of inequalities under some vision of justice and ethics. Finally, as provocative as justice itself is the concept of injustice, or errors of justice, and how damage from this can be acknowledged, avoided, or corrected.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on values-led people and organizations

A successful and robust corporate compliance and ethics program will have a blended focus on rules-based and values-based controls. Taking an integrated approach to performance and conduct is necessary in order to facilitate awareness of and adherence to compliance risk management efforts and expectations. Rules and values cannot be separated, and should indeed be balanced together to make the most compelling call to action by employees and management.

Legal and regulatory guidelines and company policies and procedures form a clear foundation for the rules and make up the structural, mandatory portion of a compliance program. Deriving this from external and internal requirements is somewhat straightforward and can be accomplished with methodical planning and continuous updating and education.

Values, on the other hand, form the ethics discipline and come from the moral codes of individuals and the commitments to integrity made by the organizations within which they work. While more resistant to obsolescence than rules and regulations, values are far more challenging to identify and express, and even harder to imbed authentically and sustainability within a corporate culture. Values provide the voluntary motivation for doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason, despite forces or interests that may impede or work against that, and including when taking this action requires inaction.

Therefore successful compliance professionals will rely upon the basis provided by rules, while evoking the emotional and personal appeal of values. Providing incentives for inner success and enabling individuals to make ethical decisions and act with integrity gives purpose to employees and credibility to organizations.

The below TED/TEDx talks emphasize the importance of values-led people and organizations and the ways they impact society, interpret ethics, and define success.

  • Why we need core values (James Franklin) – Similar to earlier TED/TEDx lectures shared on this blog, ethics in organizations and society in general begin with individuals. In order for individuals to define the internal moral registers and inform their ethical perspectives based upon them, they need to establish personal core values first. Adopting core values – inalienable individual ideas about right and wrong – is crucial in approaching life and work with purpose and conviction. Understanding core values helps to move on from failures productively, build on successes sustainably, and improve all relationships and ambitions. Individuals as well as the communities in which they live and organizations in which they work can all benefit from planning and mission statements which are grounded in individual articulated core values.

  • The transformative power of values at work (Mika Korhonen) – Well-meaning human resources managers and consultants can too easily lose the root of employee motivation and awareness efforts – that employees are people too. The person an employee is outside of work, and the values he or she possesses in private life, must be leveraged in the workplace to create genuine engagement in both compliance culture and in daily work in general. Leadership and growth requires resilience to change, endurance through adversity, and cultural and social flexibility. All of these competencies are grounded in personal values which are practiced and supported on a daily basis in the workplace. Creating a positive, values-based environment enables a workplace that is productive and prepared to focus on positive impact consistent with ethics and integrity.

  • Happiness – building a values led organization (Esther McMorris) – Ethical motivation is one of the distinctions between management and leadership. Managers who do not embrace a values-driven purpose do not establish credibility as leaders. On the other hand, ethical leadership that models exemplary conduct, supports integrity, and takes action against dishonesty or malfeasance, strikes an effective path toward engaged and effective management. Managers who are also leaders can approach their employees and partners with respect and purpose, allowing individuals to be true to the values that guide them. In this environment, true engagement and satisfaction is possible, giving way to happiness through values-led work

  • Values change everything (Itzhak Fisher) – Culture, values, and leadership are the foundation of all change in life, work, and society. When all three of these are approached together with a strong ethical predisposition, then the resulting change can be directed positively and productively. In instances where integrity is lacking, however, and these three forces are not in balance, then change is negative and feels disruptive, scary, and threatening. Transforming and adapting are inevitable. Surviving these, however, and sustaining through them with the individual and the organization’s identities intact, can be done in reliance upon strong values and the purpose that comes from them.

  • The power of why and value driven behavior (Martha Kold Bakkevig) – A lot of change in life and business is motivated by external forces – competitive pressures, evolving regulatory requirements, new stakeholder expectations, political or economic trends. These changes happen to, or despite, people and organizations. However, it’s also possible that these changes can come from an internal, organic motivation as well, a dedication to evolve for the sake of disrupting the status quo and servicing the values that drive one’s purpose and ambition.

Values-led people and organizations will form a culture of compliance with the strongest incentives for ethical decision-making and a prevailing emphasis on integrity, purpose, and inner success. Taken together with a strong controls framework to incorporate rules-based compliance foundations, an emphasis on values will give credibility and authenticity to corporate governance and strategy.


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.


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.


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 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.