With the opportunities of using algorithms on data, comes critical ethical questions that must be addressed – Anna Felländer.

In the digital age, the choice between what you can do at what you choose to do often boils down to a question of ethics. How digital products are programmed, how algorithms work, how big data are harvested and utilized, are more often matters to decide for the programmer than the CEO. Even more; the impact of the choices made, is not easy to foresee, nor is it easy to see it at all. The ethical decisions are virtually hidden under the hood.

A few years ago, a programmer approached me after I had just finished a presentation for reporters on ethics in journalism. His message was a concern about how much the journalists, the editors – and the CEOs – really understood of where the core of the ethical maneuvering had moved. He encouraged me to pay much more attention on the algorithms – because that’s where the ethics get tricky. And that’s where the choices made are left with little or no scrutiny at all, not least from the debate on journalism as such.

In the book “Weapons of math destruction” Cathy O´Neil describes some of these brand new dilemmas and pitfalls of the digital age. She writes : For many, the business running these rogue algorithms, the money pouring in seems to prove that their models are working. Look at it through their eyes and it makes sense. When they’re building statistical systems to find customers or manipulate desperate borrowers, growing revenue appears to show that they’re on the right track. The software is doing its job. The trouble is that profits end up serving as a stand-in, or proxy, for truth. We’ll see this dangerous confusion crop up again and again.

So when the digital economist Anna Felländer in a side remark mentioned “ethics in algorithms” in a debate at a Google seminar in Stockholm last year, we asked her to elaborate on these questions that we in the Tinius Trust have given priority on our agenda for 2018.

Take time to read our opening Tinius Talk in 2018: AI – a new form of CSR by Anna Felländer.