The Ethical Balance of Using Smart Information Systems for Promoting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

Mark Ryan*, Josephina Antoniou, Laurence Brooks, Tilimbe Jiya, Kevin Macnish, Bernd Stahl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are internationally agreed goals that allow us to determine what humanity, as represented by 193 member states, finds acceptable and desirable. The paper explores how technology can be used to address the SDGs and in particular Smart Information Systems (SIS). SIS, the technologies that build on big data analytics, typically facilitated by AI techniques such as machine learning, are expected to grow in importance and impact. Some of these impacts are likely to be beneficial, notably the growth in efficiency and profits, which will contribute to societal wellbeing. At the same time, there are significant ethical concerns about the consequences of algorithmic biases, job loss, power asymmetries and surveillance, as a result of SIS use. SIS have the potential to exacerbate inequality and further entrench the market dominance of big tech companies, if left uncontrolled. Measuring the impact of SIS on SDGs thus provides a way of assessing whether an SIS or an application of such a technology is acceptable in terms of balancing foreseeable benefits and harms. One possible approach is to use the SDGs as guidelines to determine the ethical nature of SIS implementation. While the idea of using SDGs as a yardstick to measure the acceptability of emerging technologies is conceptually strong, there should be empirical evidence to support such approaches. The paper describes the findings of a set of 6 case studies of SIS across a broad range of application areas, such as smart cities, agriculture, finance, insurance and logistics, explicitly focusing on ethical issues that SIS commonly raise and empirical insights from organisations using these technologies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalSustainability
Volume12
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • Smart Information Systems (SIS)
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • ethics
  • case studies
  • impact

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