Editorial

Humans in the Meshes of the Digital Web:

Ethical Challenges of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

March, 12-14, 2015

ARGUMENT

The arrival of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has profoundly changed our society in the 21st century. The pervasiveness and prevalence of these technologies move our representations of the human being and of our relationships with others. Everything, including the society, acquires a digital identity in the midst of multiple networks paving the way for new types of communications, focusing on the present, the immediate, the “here and now” of the global village.

This is surprising and fascinating. When a new product comes into the market (smartphones in 2005, tablets in 2010), it quickly becomes an inescapable topic of conversation. And the wildest dreams become realizable: glasses, clothing, household goods, vehicles, medicines, administration, everything becomes "intelligent" or is fitted with "intelligence" to the service of "enhanced humans"! For some, the enchantment is such that all questions are disposed of in the name of "progress" of technology and science.

Yet, these same techniques raise some questions. They monitor, track, collect, share and compare data reaching into the most intimate and sensitive of (genetic) data, the notion of "private life" loses its consistency, forgetfulness does not exist anymore... We all are surveilled willy-nilly, in the name of security, but also and especially for business purposes. When it is not espionage and manipulation at the individual level or between states, robots monitor plantations, construction sites, take novel pictures through unpublished views and at the same time throw bombs, spy on conflictual relationships...

The digital combined with the cognitive, with nanotechnologies, and with biology ...makes us  change the world. But what kind of world do we want? How do these innovations influence our everyday lives and the way we represent ourselves? Is there a neutrality of the net?

The objective of the 6th International Symposium on Ethics is to examine the ethical issues of information and communication technologies at different levels: philosophical, political, social, anthropological, medical, educational ... The aim is to assess the impact of ICT on daily life and on the move they generate, to develop thinking able to prevent as much as possible some abuses, some already identified others yet to be identified, to question the relationships between human beings and technology as regards ethics, anthropology, social life and others.

By focusing on the theme "Humans in the Meshes of the Digital Web", the 6th International Symposium on Ethics will provide an opportunity for each and everyone to reflect on the ethical issues with regard to Information and Communication Technologies in order to follow and not to suffer from these innovations.

The symposia, given by experts from around the world, will approach the questions from five different angles:

 

1) The Digital Phenomenon

ICT has changed enduringly, some would say permanently, our look at ourselves, our relationships with others, our relationship to intimacy... Profiles posted on the Internet are they a reflection of our unique personality or do they tend to conform to a model? What kind of bonds exist in virtual interactions (love, friendly and professional), carried out on social networks? Who has access to what and under what conditions? Are we attentive to the emergence of new forms of sociability? What is the worth of consent when refusal to consent denies one access to updates of the product? Are we really aware of our liability when personal information is made available on the Web?

 

2) Security, Surveillance and Freedom (s)

In terms of Security and surveillance, ICT constitutes both prodigious advances and unprecedented threats. One thinks of the surveillance cameras, biometric passports, and also of spyware or drones. This dual use makes humans, eager for liberty and security, to face a paradoxical injunction to say the least. ICT offers an area of freedom without common measure, which may result in a few hours to an event such as the Arab Spring (2011), but ICT also allows managers or supervisory agencies - public and private - to watch, to record and to reach into all data relating to an individual, thanks to big data. How, then can there be a balance between the needs of security and freedom?

 

3) ICT and Medicine

Through ICT, medical advances have increased during the last decade. Dependent people now have many tools at their disposal which allow them to stay at home both longer (home automation) and safer (electronic transmission of medical data, teleconsultation, geolocation). But is buying drugs online a good solution? Health monitoring has become more efficient because of Personalized Medical Records, whose main objective is the coordination of patient care. But is medical secrecy safe? Will Remote treatments or surgeries settle the problem of medical desertification? What exactly does functional imaging detect? Chips implanted in the brain can treat diseases (epilepsy, Parkinson's), but also disorders (sexual, violent); thereby upsetting the border between both of them...

 

4) ICT, Education and Communication

The digital revolution has changed our ways of thinking, writing, reading and learning. While you can immerse yourself in a book, the tablet can make you zap from one article to another. Writing with a pen is not the same as writing on a computer. Finally, “knowing by heart” seems to have no more place in a society where all information is available a few clicks away. How does one then get to select what is really relevant, so as not be overwhelmed with information? This is true in the field of education (Online Courses, MOOC, Wikipedia...) but also in the world of business. In companies, employees are saturated with mails, recommendations on the  intranet, being called to respond to every request... so how can they still focus on their main function? Virtual addictions are not uncommon. How do we find the right balance and educate effectively?

 

5) ICT and Ethics

We have some great principles of European and international law to determine the red lines, we know the keywords (consent, legitimate, proportionate, transparent, accountable, judicial control, respect for privacy, human dignity ...), but how do we translate these into practical and effective tools? How do we help democratic societies to meet a reasonable standard? The issue is not about limiting the development of ICT itself, but to ask if there are alternatives to increasing surveillance, to be clearer about the dual use, to clarify potential breaches, to device legal measures... This mission though difficult and delicate, is crucial for Ethics.

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