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Ethics, law and information technologies

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Ethics, law and information technologies

“Ethics” is the buzzword in the so-called “digital ecosystem”. In addition to “ethical hackers” – historical presence in the vocabulary of the sector – there is the ethics of social networks, there is the ethics of cybersecurity, there is the ethics of AI and that of the metaverse (although still no one has ever seen it). In the world of information technology, there is an ethics for everything. However, the reference to ethics hides, not too carefully, a substantial lack of interest in the law and the rules that unite individuals, businesses and institutions.

Il mantra wrong but repeated for decades is “technology is faster than the law”. In the name of this slogan, instead of applying existing principles and rules that are widely valid also for technological phenomena, “ethical shortcuts” are invoked. These invocations, however, are often vitiated by the need to achieve goals that are not necessarily aimed at satisfying the common good.

Invoking ethics as the foundation of an action exalts the arrogance of expecting individual beliefs to assume general value or justify the violation of shared norms. It is the result of what, in my next book about digital rights I defined the “herd loneliness paradox”: thinking of being part of a society when all that remains is a computer connected to the network, closed in a room or unaware of what is happening around us.

Once the bond of physical proximity that characterizes a society is broken, there is no need to have – and follow – shared rules. Reduced to single insects, individuals aggregate and break up into swarms depending on the objective to be achieved or the target to attack. There cancel culture and the tribal marketing based on profiling are examples, although not the only ones, of this phenomenon. This condition is induced, amplified – if not created – by the marketing of the technology industry that increasingly extends the use of artificial mediators with reality. This too is a topic that has been under discussion for decades, but completely neglected by most.

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It is too early to say whether, after social networks, products such as the metaverse will change our lives (including those of those who do not want to use them) or if they will be yet another flop waiting for the next big thing. Be that as it may, the metaverse is the best description of this “herd solitude”. Each is absolute ruler of a kingdom in which he imposes his own “laws” on the only subject: himself. And like any absolute sovereign, this king will not accept that someone else questions the superiority of his own moral principles which, on the contrary, he will try to “export democratically” by lighting flame or unleashing shitstorm.

Institutions too – the European Union, in particular – exploit ethics in a similar way by placing it at the basis of normative choices, betraying the essential presupposition that differentiates a Western democracy from other forms of “variable democracy”. In the first there is no state ethics, while in the second state and ethics are confused until they become the same thing. If, therefore, in the free world, since the French Revolution ethics has been an individual fact, it is evident that it cannot become the crowbar to undermine the rules or to impose them from above.

The laws, in fact, are the result of a mediation between different ethics which find a synthesis in the political debate and are finally translated into standards. Therefore, it could be said that laws are the way to “put pen to paper” the agreement between conflicting ethical positions. In other words, “doing the right thing” means respecting the law.

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When, however, as in the case of AI, it is an institution that establishes the existence of a ethical duty we are facing the first step to venture again into extremely dangerous and yet not unknown terrain. In the past, in fact, it has already been discovered that race of monsters populate the lands of ethics decided by power and even today, with China and theocracies, we have a concrete and macroscopic example of what it means to place the values ​​of the state or of a religious denomination above the role of the law. Again, nothing new: it is the eternal contrast between the rule of law– the primacy of the law – and the rule by law – the use of the law to impose the wishes of power.

If, therefore, we want to talk about the ethics of information technologies, then it would be important to bring it back to its proper place and to have it discussed by those who have the qualification and the skills to do so. Only then is it possible to trigger a public debate and then decide what and how should be regulated. Proceeding in this way is essential to avoid that important decisions of collective interest are the result of the convictions of the cobbler on duty.

The repeaters of the would repeat mantra above – the one about technology running faster than the time it takes to do all of this – that you can’t afford the luxury of waiting. But if the technologies, or rather the commercial strategies of Big Tech, run too fast, then they should simply be slowed down to allow the construction of conscious choices.

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While we are deciding about our future, we will certainly not miss yet another version of the various technological gadgets passed off as “innovation”.

Or yes?

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