Friday, October 18, 2019

We have an intimate relationship with technology. It is infused in our daily life, from our home and car to our finances and health care. As we welcome new technologies into our most personal spaces, there is a growing recognition that design-based thinking needs to consider ethics and the users it serves.

“Technology developers on average want to do the right thing, but often feel like ethics is someone else’s job,” says Jennifer Boger, director of Waterloo’s Intelligent Technologies for Wellness and Independent Living lab. This is a sentiment she is trying to change with her new manifesto, Ethical by Design.

Boger and her collaborators want to empower creators of technologies and systems to better-consider the ethics of what they are building, at every stage of the development process. The manifesto proposes a set of principles acting as signposts for developers to consider, discuss and support in the technology they are designing.

“The potential to help is immense,” says Boger, who also teaches the biomedical engineering ethics course, a core course for all undergraduate biomedical engineers at Waterloo.

Jen Boger

Jennifer Boger Professor, Systems Design Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

“The framework seems to resonate the most with industry right now. This may be because, while there are other initiatives out there, there is a gap for something that is readily available and can guide development day-to-day,” she says.

But it’s not just industry who is paying attention to this ethics framework. The manifesto also sparked interest from academics, government and NGO’s, including the World Health Organization. This past May, Boger was invited to the UN’s AI for Good Summit to participate in a panel and lead a workshop on the ethical by design concept.

“It’s not just for computer scientists, engineers or philosophers, it’s for all people and sectors engaging in creating tech or systems,” Boger explains. “I want anyone working in development to be able to pick up the framework and understand how the principles apply to them.”

This article was originally posted on the Waterloo Stories