Considering The Ethical Dimension In Technological Advances

Denise Oram


We are currently living in an experimental age of technological development. Owing to the exponential growth in the development of new e-technologies and mobile devices, (that is, technology that relies on an infrastructure of electronics and computation for its production and operation) we are experiencing radical changes to our society and generating a major change in human behaviour.

The aim of the paper is to examine different approaches to the problem of the exponential development of e-technologies with a view to increasing informed awareness among all involved practitioners. It highlights problems that systems of ethics promote, concerning the relationships between individuals; that cultural differences need to be reconciled, and that ethics is a highly conceptual field, and has to be mediated through language.

The paper begins with a broad survey of the current relationship between technological progress and its effects on society. This is followed by a review of the history of the relationships between ethics and technological development, showing how the ethical focus has changed over time and in response to major societal concerns.

This paper stresses the importance to take into consideration the perception of ethical issues changing over time and in a given culture. White (1967) was writing at a time when most of those concerned with the imminent environmental crisis were seen as freaks and weirdoes. Now, when no government minister in the U.K. dare make any pronouncement concerning policy without first considering what impact that policy would have on the environment.

The ethical dimension in technological advances is explored, highlighting some major concerns for society particularly focusing on issues of culture, design, the environment, sustainability and human psychological well-being. Ethical issues need to be discussed as part of the process of requirements analysis between developers and producers who may come from different cultural backgrounds which affect their perception of ethical imperatives.

As a contribution to a toolkit of practical mechanisms for addressing sustainability and other ethical issues, this paper proposes a mechanism, the Culturally negotiated ethical triangle. Oram and Headon (2002) proposed this as a framework which would enable discussion between people of different cultural backgrounds and allow different perceptions of the concepts at issue to be mapped on to each other.

The paper focuses on the Culturally negotiated ethical triangle; a tool that can be used by systems engineers and developers, and those responsible for nurturing and educating systems engineers and developers, to facilitate consideration of ethical issues in this context.

It is essential also that we change the culture of the decision-making process whereby an ethical dimension is considered regarding the sustainability of the future development and implementation of new technologies. Skilled negotiators are hard to find. The model can be used as an ethical audit; a basis for negotiation between stakeholders in any decision-making situation. The model can be used for visualising and creating awareness of the issues at stake in the ethical decision-making process. The consideration is to explore the practical application of the proposed model as to the possibilities of its use in the teaching of students to raise awareness of the importance of ethical decision-making with regard to sustainability in the development of new technologies.

Moral and legal responsibility appears to be on the decline, and a change in culture of thought and outlook needs to be instigated in a financially driven world where upgrades and advancements in technology are in demand. Ethical scrutiny is essential if we are to change as a society that is driven by trends, where we need to consider corporate social responsibility and accountability with regards to honesty, obligation and integrity.

Consideration has to be given to social responsibility, time-engagement and issues of sustainability associated with these technologies; ensuring consideration is given to social behaviour towards technology.

It may be argued that even though rights and responsibilities may be proposed and protected directly by supranational bodies such as the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe or the UN, without being filtered through national political administrations, the responsibility for confronting ethical issues falls more and more on the individual. In the event of assessing how the individual is to shoulder this burden, the paper will attempt to analyse the needs of the individual in this respect, and to propose one way in which the individual can be helped.

A major challenge facing society is the lack of structure in the decision-making process pertaining to the design and development of new e-technologies. Following a review of the ways in which ethical concerns may be perceived as affecting the individuals involved, the Culturally negotiated ethical triangle is presented as what is hoped will be a useful tool for all those concerned with negotiated approaches to the design and development of e-technologies.


Oram, Denise & Headon, Mike. (2002) “Avoiding information systems failure: culturally determined ethical approaches and their practical application in the new economy”, Conference paper, Kaunas University of Technology, published as Inžinerine Ekonomika (Engineering Economics) no. 2 (28), pp. 9-13.

White, L. J. (1967) The historical roots of our ecological crisis. Science, vol. 155, pp. 1203-1207.