2 min read

On being an ethical technologist

Do you consider your work in tech to be particularly ethical? Do you at least consider it to be neutral? Why is that?

Ethics in tech are often seen as an afterthought, though this slowly seems to be changing. I think that there is still a long way to go before we can say that the tech industry is a force for good in the world.

I think that in tech we often look for an easy way out when it comes to ethics. We tick the boxes; we set up initiatives for the people people of marginalised groups in our companies and talk over them. We do the bare minimum; we do the diversity and inclusion initiatives to the degree that it fits our optics as a company and as individuals. We denounce and lionise convenient causes. We fail to interrogate capitalism, racism, cisheteropatriarchy and the other myriad and intersecting systems of oppression and injustice that cloud our work and our lives.

This is not to say that being ethical, especially as a company rather than individual, or as a worker in general, is easy. I think the stuff of our lives is in working out how to make ourselves and others happier, encouraging the thriving of all we encounter. Which is to say, the work of creating a better world is a lifetime's worth.

This, however, does say that quick and easy wins should not be the sum total of an individual or group's efforts. I am saying that shallow attempts to engage with our broken systems and plaster over gaping wounds with a slightly modified business as usual will not result in a world that allows everyone to flourish.

Tech as it currently stands does not create a world where every can live their best life. We are co-creating a world filled with terrible things; where the rare minerals used in our daily driver laptops and servers, arguably the backbone of the industry, are mined in unspeakable conditions; where the people who assemble and deliver these technologies take ill or die at work at an astounding rate; where large monopolistic companies control the majority of the infrastructure and pay very little in tax and encourage these terrible working practices as companies; where the technologies we are building are often at best encouraging the continuation of the status quo, and at worst actively undermining the wellbeing of people and planet... This list barely skims the surface of the ills that tech, as a multi billion dollar industry eating the world, creates and perpetuates.

It is not enough to have more black faces in Fortune 500 companies when those same companies are making a world teeming with injustice. It is not enough to have gender diversity in your workplace when your workplace is also making life harder for people of marginalised genders. It is not enough to reshuffle the cards of a rigged, unfair game and act as if this has fixed the systems that underpin our broken society.

I'd love to be glib and say 'and here is the solution!' but I think creating solutions and change will be the work of my life, and the lives of other people who decide it's important to have a world that's worth living in for every person. I think joining a union if you're is able is a good start, and that there are myriad educational resources for learning more about the badness of tech, but I feel we lack frameworks and ideas about how to claw our way out of the mess we have created.

I'm going to write a blog a day for at least the next month on this and related topics, which, whilst I doubt will crack the code once and for all, will at least help me think through these issues and hopefully open up a conversation about the myriad ways we can tackle the hydra of injustice and oppression in our lives.