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Implementation of Ethics in Technology. My takeaways from Mackenzie Clark's lecture

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Hey everyone! I am Arrad Mostafa and I will be a senior at Sir Wilfrid Laurier CI next school year. Recently I had the pleasure of attending Illuminate Leadership Academy Lecturer Mackenzie Clark’s presentation on the importance of ethics when creating technology and how to build a website using Wix. This was my first time creating a website using coding. But more importantly, it was also my first time learning about the importance of ethics used in technology.

Career & Mindset

Mackenzie started by sharing the early years of her career. I was surprised to learn that she first intended to be a part of the Snowbirds. Being an air cadet myself, I was interested in asking her more questions about the aviation industry and the application process. Before joining the Snowbirds, she decided to change her career path to engineering. To understand if engineering was her field of interest, she went into robotics at UofT. There, she started joined the Blue Sky Solar Race team. After gaining some experience from the team, she realized that this type of engineering wasn't the best fit for her. She soon decided that she wanted to learn more about herself as a person before making a definitive career choice. Nevertheless, she was still able to use the skills she gained from her team later on in her life.

Taking a year off, she took an internship at Intel. At Intel, she was able to build up her self-confidence and many other skills due to the guidance and support of her managers. She came to realize her own strength and weaknesses. Having someone believe in her, she was able to take the risks she thought were necessary and grow as an individual. Her managers also supported her by opening a lot of doors and allowing her the opportunity to try new things. With renowned confidence and individuality, she soon set herself for software engineering and now has an internship at Google.

She shared her acceptance story for Google and it was quite extraordinary. She sent her application in her first year of university. She was then given a notice that she has been accepted 3 years later. During her time at Intel, she learned the “I can’t do it YET” mindset. Whenever you are faced with what seems like an impossible task, tell yourself that it is not possible yet, but you will be able to overcome it eventually with support or improving yourself.

Using this mindset, she is currently teaching how to code and is in the cloud healthcare team in Google. She is looking into the trend and trajectory of technology. Mackenzie wants to make a difference and wants her work to be used by people. She aims to increase the trajectory of technology by adding her perspective into the mix. Hearing her drive and ambitions was very inspiring as I realized that all the small details really do matter for the bigger picture. Even if it’s not huge, everyone can contribute the way they can and help technology move forward.

The Iron Rings

There is a history to the ethical practices in technology and engineering that date back to the 20th Century. The Quebec Bridge was going to be the first bridge that crossed the Saint Lawrence River between Sainte-Foy and Lévis, Quebec. However, the design of the bridge was flawed as the bridge was not strong enough to withstand its own weight. Consequently, on August 29th, 1907, the bridge collapsed and killed 75 people. They then attempted to reconstruct the bridge. However, due to faulty design one again, 13 people lost their lives as the bridge collapsed again in 1916.

“The tradition of ‘The Iron Ring’ begins in the year 1922 after a group of Montréal-based engineers met to consider implementing a code of ethics, and a vehicle to provide guidance to new professionals. Some say this was in response to the tragic collapse of the Quebec Bridge”

This tradition continues to this date. Mackenzie explains that engineers wear the iron ring on the smallest finger on their dominant hand as a reminder and a symbol of the great responsibility that they held on their hands. Mackenzie also explains that it sometimes makes a scratching sound when writing on paper or signing some documents as a reminder that the outcomes of the agreement were done using your hands.

What is Ethics?

From the section above, we can understand that ethics is the founded standard of what is right and what is wrong. But the question arises, what are the standards founded on? It differs from person to person, but most people base their ethical choices and actions on rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, religion, or other virtues. Since everyone has their own perspective, there is no hard definition. So how do we determine if something is ethical or not?

Ethics refers to well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do. That is why we refrain from crimes like murdering and stealing. In the same way, we applaud the virtues of honesty and compassion. Therefore, ethics refers to the moral values and the standard that society as a whole lives up to and acts upon.

Ethics Modern-day Technology

When working on a project that can be used for good, it is always important to remember and think about how someone can use it negatively. In these cases, it is crucial to weigh the advantages and disadvantages carefully before implementing or creating the project. Even though the engineer created the project with a good intention, others might not feel the same way. There are instances where technology that was intended for good can be repurposed for bad. 4 clear examples of such are

Let’s take a look at surveillance for example. One technology that is used for surveillance is Facial Recognition. Facial recognition technology helps us identify threats via camera or helps you quickly unlock your phone. However, it can be easily repurposed to enforce systemic biases as well.

How Ethics can be implemented in Businesses

Ethics is important in any situation where there are more than 2 parties present. More so in a business environment. For people to be able to work together, there needs to be a strong understanding connection between all individuals. There are 6 ways on how you can implement ethics in your business or openly display it.

Identify and Renew Company Values

When creating an ethics program for your company, it is crucial to have a clear set of values already created for the company. As explained before, everyone has their own perspective on ethics. There might be some workers who don't fully agree with your set of values. Ethics programs flourish more with employees who are "value-driven" and agree on the same set of ethics. Many companies conduct regular companywide initiatives that involve employees at all levels of responsibility when renewing company values and updating them when appropriate.

Secure Visible Commitment from Senior Managers

Senior managers or employees must show support for the ethics program to be successful. An example of such is participating in the training sessions, often talking about ethics, and aligning their behavior with the set company standards. Newer employees will see the visual display of ethics and better understand the company. If the senior members don't care much about the companies ethics in the first place, the structure of the company weakens and the future managers will also be the same.

Engage the Board of Directors

Similar to the previous example, personnel at the higher part of the management chain must demonstrate their attention and action on the company's ethics code to make sure that all other employees will follow their example. Many U.S. companies have instituted board ethics committees and training in recent years, a move motivated in part by the many regulations establishing that directors may be held liable for corporate ethical transgressions.

Develop an Ethics Code

The ethics code is the set of standards that the company is built upon and also includes how to handle common situations that the company personnel may face in the future. The code is also updated frequently as new challenges emerge and new methods of business occur. It is crucial to be specific about what is required of employees, where leeway is allowed in decision making, and which ethical issues are nonnegotiable. Unclear rules and unclear expectations of employees are the single most prominent obstacle to ethical behavior.

Build Ethics into Mission and Vision Statements

Including ethics in your mission and vision statement allows both the company and its clients to understand where exactly the company stands and where they draw the line. This will be beneficial to both parties as the company has clear guidelines to follow and the clients know exactly how they expect to be treated.

Integrate Ethics into all aspects of Company Communications

Ethics must be implemented from the beginning of the organization. Demonstrating ethics to employees since the start of their training at the company will allow ethics to appear more often in orientations, management, training courses, meetings, and day-to-day communications. Upholding ethics will ensure the company's longevity and strong structure.

Website Building

Near the end of her lecture, Mackenzie did one last activity with us. We created a website on Wix. Mackenzie shared with us a document with step-by-step instructions from how to make an account to how to add effects to words. Surprisingly enough, not many of the attendees had any background in JAVA or any coding languages for the matter. The only coding language that I program in is Python, so it was also a new experience for me.

After finishing the basics on the website, I grew increasingly interested in the syntax for JAVA and asked Mackenzie to help me understand it more. She gladly helped and I was able to create my own lines of codes without support from the instruction document. Creating a form of technology was very exciting and interesting as there are countless possibilities.

Overall, Mackenzie's lecture allowed me to understand the deep meaning of ethics and its importance when creating new technology. It was especially eye-opening since I never heard or considered the two topics to have any kind of connection. The final website-building activity was also very engaging. I was able to understand a bit more about a different coding language and the amount of effort that goes into building a website. I would like to thank Mackenzie for the amazing lecture and Illuminate Universe for the eye-opening opportunity. I look forward to all of the upcoming events!

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