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Three ethical principles for the tech professionals of the future

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Celina Belotti, Privacy Lead at Precis Digital, talks us through three ethical principles that the upcoming code whisperers, algorithm architects and trailblazers will have to be mindful of.

THE TECH ECOSYSTEM TODAY HAS COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED FROM THE GENERATIONS BEFORE US.

The rise of AI, the multitude of big and small companies dominating the field, the multiple applications of tech that have reshaped our lives, our cities and our work; Tech today is a complex scene and there are many nuances we should be looking at when working in this sector. Beyond the essential blend of technical proficiency, adaptability, and soft skills, the future tech professional must also be acutely attuned to substantial ethical quandaries.

Celina Belotti, Privacy Lead at Precis Digital

Here Celina Belotti, Privacy Lead at Precis Digital, talks us through three ethical principles that the upcoming code whisperers, algorithm architects and trailblazers will have to be mindful of.

Celina is a tech ethicist and privacy specialist with a background in psychology. She was born in Brazil and moved to London in 2018 to pursue a master’s degree in social sciences of data and tech at the London School of Economics.

After graduating, she joined Precis, a tech company that specializes in data analytics. She started out as an analyst, but quickly moved into a leadership role leading the company’s privacy efforts. She was also part of the team that created the marketing ethics framework and started the privacy stream at Precis.

Celina is passionate about using technology to improve people’s lives. She believes that technology can be a force for good, but only if it is used ethically. She is particularly interested in understanding how technology impacts people’s privacy and how we can build a healthy and sustainable internet for the future.

In her free time, Celina is creating an AI ethics training program that would use design thinking methods. She believes that this is an important way to help people understand the ethical implications of AI and how to use it responsibly.

Celina is a creative and thoughtful individual who is committed to using her skills to make a positive impact on the world. She is a valuable asset to any team and is sure to continue to do great things in the field of tech ethics.

EVALUATE BIASES

A lot has been said about biases in the technology we use to make decisions every day; from the risk of discrimination to the creation of echo-chambers. It might feel like something detached, too big for us to grasp with our day-to-day work, but at Precis Digital we think that understanding the potential and limitations of the data we are using in our work is more important than ever before and should be something every tech professional is able to do. With AI and automation ever more prevalent, the impact of technology in our society will only grow, so now it’s time to double down our efforts to understand the underlying biases of our tech and critically assess the work we are developing.

A good example of how biases in the data we are collecting can result in bad decision-making can be found in the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. In this 2019 work, Criado Perez describes how the lack of data about women’s needs, preferences, life experiences, and concerns causes everything from inconvenience to physical harm for women. Like others before her Perez proves how fatal the consequences of biases in tech are.

As tech professionals we have the agency to impact the foundations of the tech we work on. Incorporating inclusive design thinking into the framework of tech creation is a powerful approach to ensure accessibility and representation for all. The key is to understand and recognise diverse viewpoints and requirements such as cognitive changes that come with age, or limited usability challenges from disabilities.

In times as convoluted as the ones we are in right now, it might feel like our work has no impact beyond the goals we reach or the tickets we check off after each sprint, but that’s not true: good tech is built by good people, and with technology and automation becoming ever more prevalent, the decisions that lie in the background will be ever more important.

CAMPAIGN FOR TRANSPARENCY AS A STANDARD

The second thing that we believe tech professionals should be thinking about when it comes to ethics is the importance of transparency. As a citizen and end-user, consider how often algorithms make decisions on your behalf and whether you really understand all of them.

We can take social media platforms as an example. In the omnipresent world of social media, the enigma lies in their algorithms.Their algorithms leave many scratching their heads, wondering how the content they come across is chosen. At their best, algorithms can deliver relevant content that makes the overall experience better; at their worst, they can create echo chambers, spread disinformation, or breed addiction.

At Precis Digital we recently released our latest 2023 Marketing Ethics research, conducted by YouGov, into the evolving landscape of the impact of marketing on society, shedding light on consumer perceptions and preferences regarding privacy, data sharing and personalised advertising. The results show that a daunting 18% of users don’t at all understand why they see the ads they see online – and an additional 27% are not really sure if they understand it or not. We must do better.

So what can be done about this? How can a tech professional contribute to increasing the standards of transparency in our industry? At Precis, we have transparency as one of our foundational principles and it guides us to have a positive impact in many aspects of our work. But everyone can join in, even by adopting practices as simple as communicating and documenting the design processes in your work. The day of the recluse coder is gone, now we need to engage with our culture and society to make sure that tech works for everyone.

PROMOTE TRUST AROUND AI

Finally, we think that the tech professional of the future needs to make a commitment to help build systems that are trustworthy and accountable. When it comes to AI, this year has been a rollercoaster ride: As euphoric as a lot of people are about ChatGPT, Bard and the many other generative AI platforms to come to the fore, we need to recognise that a lot of people are anxious and afraid of the impact that AI will have on their lives, and rightfully so. Without strong ethical foundations, the power of AI could easily have a negative rather than positive impact..

In our Marketing Ethics Survey, we asked users how much they are afraid of AI being used by Social Media Platforms for advertising purposes and the answers were striking: 34% of consumers expressed concerns about the use of algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence in selecting the type of content they see online. Can we blame them? And if we see this level of concern just around online ads, imagine the level of concern for other potential applications like AI replacing humans in situations like phone support, banks, supermarkets, and more.

The tech analyst of today will be the tech leader of the future with power to make decisions, and we all need to take the pledge to do our due diligence and ensure that we are designing safe and responsible systems.

FUTURE TECH PROFESSIONALS

Tech professionals at the forefront of innovation stand at a crossroads in the coming years. Their responsibilities don’t just include coding and crunching data but understanding the impact of what they create and using these insights to help them channel their creativity. Ethics should be a significant component in their processes, from their research to designs, testing and launch. This will help guide tech creators towards ethical and responsible choices. Women in tech such as the readers of She Can Code will be the trailblazers to help lead us toward a tech landscape that thrives on principles of fairness and ethics.

As AI continues to shape our world, addressing the fear surrounding its role in everyday life should be imperative to the tech professionals of the future. By valuing representation, considering algorithmic biases, developing understanding, and promoting ethical AI development, tech professionals can pave the way for a future where AI is embraced, encouraged, and beneficial to all. Through these efforts, we can empower society to harness emerging technologies’ potential whilst minimising the fears that surround them.

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