Ethics in IT

Agbogbloshie, Accra (Ghana), the largest electronic waste dump in the world

Estimated reading time: 1-2 min.

Public concerns about how technology can impact society are taking companies to hire Tech Ethicists to work in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data. These concerns not only affect these areas, but extend to the role of Information Technology (IT) in society.

IT (Information Technology) refers to the Hardware (HW), the physical support for storing and exchanging information, and the Software (SW), the instructions that we give to these physical devices for making them function for us.

Ethical Hardware is built, used and maintained following some considerations:

  1. Improvement of worker conditions throughout the supply chain, paying special attention to the extraction of minerals in conflict zones and the exposure of the workers to toxic substances used in the manufacturing process, which later contaminate the landfill where it is disposed.
  2. Reduction of energy usage, with empashis on minimising the carbon footprint in production processes, but also promoting infrastructure powered by renewable energies and thinking critically about big scale electromagnetic deployments like 5G (and 6G, and the new generations that will come).
  3. Extension of the service life of electronic devices, defending the Right to repair electronic devices and offering options for e-waste disposal. A movement that is getting more attention in the last years is the Open Source Hardware movement, that defends the publication of schematics and of instructions for making Hardware and Software communicate, so the devices designed under this movement can be replicated.

A great place for finding practical information about some of these issues is the magazine Ethical Consumer, which has published some guides for helping users to choose their electronic devices based on ethical criteria. Hopefully in the future we will see guides that include these ethical specifications alongside technical ones, as any other characteristic of the Hardware we use.

After analysing some of the characteristics that make Hardware ethical, the next question is: what about Software? Is the Software around us ethical?

Are there other considerations for Ethical Hardware that are not mentioned here? Which criteria do you use when you need to choose an electronic device?

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