Education And Digital Ethics: An Interview With Humberto De Faria Santos

DOI: 10.32749/nucleodoconhecimento.com.br/education/digital-ethics
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CONTEÚDO

INTERVIEW

BRONZATO, Anderson [1]

BRONZATO, Anderson. Education And Digital Ethics: An Interview With Humberto De Faria Santos. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year 06, Ed. 04, Vol. 04, pp. 05-17. April 2021. ISSN:2448-0959, Access link in: https://www.nucleodoconhecimento.com.br/education/digital-ethics, DOI: 10.32749/nucleodoconhecimento.com.br/education/digital-ethics

ABSTRACT

The present report represents the content shared by interviewing Humberto de Faria Santos, graduated in Theology and International Relations with a master’s degree in management systems. Mr. Santos has already done Economics and Organizational Ethics course at the University of Harvard. The interview aimed to bring into discussion the relationship between ethics into the technology field. Here, it was approached (i) the role of universities, (ii) key principles and values, (iii) a comparative view between the job market and educational organizations, (iv) the ethical concerns at non-academic training organizations, (v) privacy, ethics, and the digital world, (vi) the creation of solutions avoiding problems to society and finally, (vii) the collaboration of technology to the ethics rise.

Keywords: Ethics, Technology, Education, University, Values.

1. INTRODUCTION

The present study was designed from an interview that was carried out with Humberto de Faria Santos, who has a degree in Theology and international relations, a master’s degree in the management system and currently doing a doctorate. An additional and interesting point is that Mr. Santos also has a course in Economics and organizational ethics at Harvard University.

Initially, based on the John O’Brien report entitled “Digital ethics in higher education”, published in 2020, the author exposes “the new technologies, especially those which rely on artificial intelligence or data analysis are exciting, but also present ethical challenges that deserve our attention and action. Higher education can and must lead the way” (O’BRIEN, 2020). In this way, one of the objectives of the interview with Mr. Santos was to bring into the discussion the relationship between ethical bias in the technology field since this area offers many applications and digital solutions. A point that is fair to emphasize is that Ethics was adapted to the technological world, however, it is important to remember that ethics is ethics at any time.

2. FUNDAMENTALS

2.1 THE ROLE OF UNIVERSITIES IN THE DISCUSSION OF ETHICAL ISSUES

It is already known that universities, recently, are receiving technological solutions and hiring consultants in the market to find data collection solutions, mainly from their clients, who are their students. Even in United States of America and Brazil, many universities are using this data to find out who has great potential to register in the next semester to get good grades and often they do not ask for authorization of the student’s data. At this point, it is evident a rise of ethical concern by those universities. Besides, those institutions already must care about diversity of students – in a way that a match with quality and diversity is required – on the other hand, there is the possibility, and the most probable possibility is the economic issue concern.

According to Mr. Santos, universities are a traditional type of organization, which reflects on their slowness. Organs do not have to be educational, but when they are linked to society, tend to be slower, also causing a slow response to the market. At the same time, even being slow, things that happen in universities tend to gain a very large dimension. Those organizations are responsible to incorporate into the everyday life discussion… When the topic of ethical issues of attracting students is raised, it seems like universities are not yet assuming this with their problem. At this point, there is no answer nowadays, universities do not have that kind of concern, although it will be since the area of ​​education must have participation and will have a participation in giving an answer to society, not only a normative answer, but an answer based on the example.

It is well established that in recent times, universities have helped to improve social inequality, offering a bachelor’s degree possibility. In this scenario, the aspect of quality is raised and questioned – which includes the quality of teaching, the quality of students, since everyone has the possibility to acquire a diploma from a college/university – that used it as an instrument to improve the qualification of people in their countries and regions. The ethical awareness process within the digital area and within the technological market can be started by universities, by a civil society movement, from the government, or even a mix of them.

Mr. Santos believes that it difficult to have consistent results without the participation of the university, which should be in two different ways: (i) the same university that is forming/graduating the technology students, and (ii) the same university that must raise ethical questions. If those organizations do not take a position concerning the issues that are happening in the world nowadays, they could be accused of being the source of several ethical problems, such as happened and still happens with business schools. That is important to say that at some point, everything we see in very academic language will be diluted for a discussion with society, which reflects the necessity to listen to society, the anguish that happens inside and around the society.

Nowadays, there is a big number of programs and documentaries that expose how to deal with this issue. In the next two years, ethical concerns and technological consequences for society will be the topic discussed at the annual meeting in Austin, Texas “South by Southwest”. The numbers of published reports also had a huge leap in terms of numbers in the last six years. This is a sign that society and the academy are moving in a way to discuss ethical issues. However, this movement must be quicker than it is happening now. In other words, recently, a new technology professional has no longer an answer to some things, which frequently the situation becomes bigger than the developer, that result in a feeling of “I don’t know what is happening with the algorithm I designed”. Those situations need an answer that comes from both university and society levels. The university plays an important and fundamental role in those responses. It is not expected a normal flow for this to come from the society by itself, so the collaborative integration among organizations, individuals and universities communication needs to be studied and discussed for an efficient and quick response regarding ethical concerns.

2.2 PRINCIPLES AND VALUES: EXAMPLE BASED ON CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

When ethics regulations are analyzed, it is observed that the European continent has the most up-to-date and most developed rules and regulations in ethics, when compared with North America, South America, and Asia. It is speculated that cultural differences between east and west reflect on ethical issues and because of that, a vital question raises the challenge of an ethical coexistence regulation of global ethical issues. Some culture conflict may be existing; however, it is discussed if the European pattern and standard of ethics regulations might be applied globally in an equal way – or if it is essential to adapt to each region of Earth.

According to Mr. Santos, it is clear the necessity to adapt those regulations to each region, however, it is crucial to establish non-negotiable topics in this process. Values should not be negotiable, which of them should we preserve in a global scenario? It is easier to adapt, however, peripheral topics. For example, Brazilian legislation has used European legislation as a basis. However, not every country has the same issues, that is why it is needed to consider local aspects, which not cancel a global discussion in a systematic way to define what is not negotiable in relation to this topic.

At this moment, a question raised is: Could we consider privacy as a value? Some authors in literature say that privacy is not a luxury, privacy and autonomy are two themes that are deeply linked, privacy, autonomy, and character. To interfere with someone’s privacy is also an intervention with their privacy, autonomy and who they are – which is completely acceptable to be discussed in a technological regulation topic. Going back to the cultural interference, there will always be a cultural shock which is a hermeneutical work that intellectuals might be responsible for the discussion. It is important to believe that this discussion can happen. Nevertheless, it is not something easy and automatic. As a characteristic of ethics, there is no place where the right answer is written, arguments can be bicker at any time, and some resistance can appear. That is why intellectuals, people who are studying this subject, people from the technological area, people from philosophy, people from the economic area might work together in a systematic way to lead the discussion.

An example of values and principles that could be applied at different levels of relationships, business in cultures, are the Judeo-Christian values and principles. On the other hand, because technology has brought a polarized society, and because a heterogeneous society exists, it becomes a challenge to use Christian values and principles as a model for global ethics. One of the principles of Christian values is honesty, which must be in any worldview, political, religious, economic… in this point of view, there is the possibility to adopt this value in an entire country. On the other hand, non-Christians might misunderstand those values with faith and an attempted religious interference. The literature already reported some studies of companies and universities using Judeo-Christian principles within their organizations, which reflected positively in an environment of trust much greater than those that do not implement those principles, aiming to collaborate to staff to work much happier, even be more productive for the business and feels in a much safer and more reliable environment.

In the book “The Science of diversity”, Mona Sue Weissmark raised a crucial explanation about inclusion and diversity. People must be very careful with the language they use because that language can create a kind of resistance and even resentment on the other part. For example, resistance might be created with “Black lives matter”, because of resentment that may have arisen by the misuse of words, although it is completely understandable what is behind the movement. This aspect also affects the need for the right language in the case of Christian ethics and principles as a possibility to disseminate an ideal ethical practice. If this aspect is presented in religious attire, it can create resistance for those who are not religious and resentment in those who belong to another religion. It might be understood as “my religion has the answer that yours does not” – that is why language must be carefully selected in a place of oscillation between values ​​and principles.

By definition, a principle should be applied not only any situation but also answer questions for all times – that is exactly what Christian ethics do – however, again, the correct language plus seek the connection in other religions are vital since any religion has similarities and issues that they converge and most of them involve ethics. In summary, a common point among religions might be found to deal with a Christian perspective without preaching Christianity.

2.3 DOES HAVE THE UNIVERSITY TO BE CLOSE TO THE JOB MARKET?

In the current scenario, individuals are more involved in technology, which is a very quick field. Frequently, someone who has a 4-years degree in computer science, for example, has the possibility to be obsolete, everything previously learned is not practicable anymore. In this way, it is observed a distance between the university and the job market starring by technology.

The university should claim to be an integral part of the society, nevertheless, sometimes it can be assumed that society and the university are two separated entities. In the academy, criticisms are always welcome, because it is a place where the mistakes are criticized to achieve an improvement. At this point, the university should have this intention not only to seek the ranking of being the best but how much it is contributing to society – the university has to be sitting in the middle of the community (the University of Wisconsin implemented idea).

Two legitimate points of views are possible in this aspect. The first one is intellectuals, who are part of society, watching society and behaviors from the outside, understanding their pains, what is necessary to cause – as a discussion – to find solutions. The second point of view does not see the university as an external entity that offers a solution, but as a living in this environment and which will participate in the discussion. For this reason, understand where to place the university is a key point.

There is a consensus, however, that advocate the fact that intellectuals have to understand society pains, in their routine, in their daily lives in and outside the academy, to formulate new opinions and rules as a basis to guidelines, as we have seen in Europe, which are able to deal with technological advancements to avoid professionals not ready for the job market, to avoid being obsolete. Therefore, preparatory courses and training inside some companies are being implemented, to teach young professionals how to do the work, which resumes 4-years degree in basically 6 months. To understand the ethical need that the digital market demands daily is important – so it required intellectuals to not only be restricted in the educational area but get involved with the digital area. It can start by changing the mindset, understand how new generation works, the applications, solutions, what and who is behind those topics. Do those involved in the development of any solution have values? Do they expect to bring a fairer society? This is important because people can lose control of algorithms and that is why academics must be trained to understand ethics and match the needs in the digital market – but the open question is: How to do that?

2.4 PRIVACY, ETHICS, AND THE DIGITAL WORLD

Even though philosophers are discussing ethics regularly, the current scenario asks for a discussion regarding discuss ethical issues in the digital world. Corruption, honesty, privacy. Privacy is a key point that deserves to be considered in the digital world since everybody data can be running around without their allowance.

According to Mr. Santos, the paradigm of knowledge could be compared with the paradigm of religion. In the Middle Ages, there was an answer to everything within religion. When an answer could not be provided by religion, two possibilities were pointed: (i) the question do not make sense or (ii) the question was not well formulated – which can be classified as the religious paradigm. On the other hand, the paradigm of knowledge comes with postmodernity. The Historic mark behind that comes with Américo Vespúcio, who came to Americas and, when back to Europe, had written “I do not know where I am, I do not know what this place is, I know that it is not Asia”. The Bible has not spoken in the Americas, religion has not spoken in the Americas. When Vespúcio admitted that he has not known that place, it has started a cognitive and intellectual revolution, based on answers unknown at that moment. From that moment, modernity was inaugurated and was based on a thought that “I do not have all answers”.

Based on those paradigms, it is feasible to think that some answers can no longer be useful, and that is when people start to think and talk about ethical issues, and once ethical issues are raised, we are mostly talking about human beings. It supposed to human beings have ethics, but is it possible for machines? For example, it is already possible to argue that someone can take a person’s brain and load it on the computer, if they turn off that on the computer, is it a crime? Have they killed a person? The society must be prepared to admit that it does not have all answers.

2.5 ETHICS CONCERNS REGARDING NON-ACADEMIC TRAINING ORGANIZATIONS AND EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS

The emergence of training organizations with no monitoring of some types of training is somehow worrisome. For example, there is an organization that teaches data science, data analysis, some, coding, python and similar topics in just six-month program. In the end, the graduated student receives 50% of all the monthly fees paid during the six study months and a job proposal with a company that has an agreement with the organization. As this organization is not a teaching institution, there is no agency monitoring this type of training.

According to an interview made with a CEO of one of those organizations, one of the goals of this kind of training companies is to offer something to the market that the university cannot offer. The leader said that the United States is talking about the American market, ‘there are already many professionals in the area of ​​geography, history, sociology’ and that ‘the United States no longer needs professionals like this one’ needs data scientists, software engineer, data analyst, business analyst and this module that he created for training is what the United States needs and that is directly serving the market. In this aspect, the university needs to solve this issue of training by offering a higher education course which is capable to serve the market in a fast way and a bachelor’s degree could be directed to those interested to follow the academic area (KATHLEEN, 2017).

This query has already been in discussion throughout the history of education and tends to be permanent: What is the role of education? Is it training for the labor market or ‘Liberal arts’ as they say in the United States, or is it training people to participate in society and training people as individuals and forming individuality of people, personal growth? Is it the job market? Is it personal development? Is it participation in society? In the IT area and the IT program, it is not commonly discussed ethical privacy issues, remaining restricted to technical issues. As a result, recent-graduated individuals are working on the job market with no notion of ethical implications and they are not prepared to enter and face the society as heads thinkers, since they are not trained for that. This is particularly worrying in the United States does not train young people to think. In high school system, young Americans are trained and prepared to pass on exams, to maintain the school ranking and to prepare them to enter a university, which is basically focused on performance, nothing result. Differently, in Brazil, even with all intrinsic mistakes and problems of this country it is common to find a Professor training young people to think, lending a question opened.

Some universities are trying to prepare students coming from high school to have a more analytical and critical view of the world, for that, those institutions are offering a mandatory discipline for any course in an attempt to reduce individual and social consequences of students involved in a purely technical course. The concern is considering that those young people are responsible for creating solutions for the world. What is a consequence of that?

2.6 HOW TO CREATE A SOLUTION AND AVOID NEW PROBLEMS FOR SOCIETY?

A Korean series called “startup” has presented two situations. A group of young people spend three years in a big company. In this group, a 25-years old genius in coding had created a program for the visually impaired. The cell phone with a computer in front – the person asks for the artificial intelligence what is in front of them. By pointing the cell phone in front of the subject, it appears a monitor that speaks to the visually impaired right. This creation was made because the grandmother of his girlfriend was going blind, and he wanted a solution to meet grandma. In a very well-intentioned way, he creates this solution, but he no longer thinks about the ethical implications behind it, he does not even raise his baits of commercializing that, because he creates the solution, but he needs to commercialize, he needs investors, investors do not always have this ethical look. The motivation is different, and society faces a great risk with young people with no experience of the world and as a consequence, no preparation on ethical questions.

A second situation in the series “startup” was a creation of the autonomous car – a technology that would cut several driver vacancies since people would not need a driver anymore. The father of this genus-guy was a driver for a company and went to an event to discuss with the 29-years old CEO girl of the company, explaining many families would lose their jobs… not just people, but families. What can be concluded with this situation? Some solutions can put people in difficult situations economically. The market, by using technology, is being designed to finish with the answer. This brings to discussion the need to find a middle ground between avoid the stagnation of the process and avoid a fast process that potentially culminates in widespread unemployment. In other words, it is necessary to find a middle ground between a generation that is analogous and a generation that is totally digital, aiming to avoid the creation of problems by trying to solve an initial one.

The concept of finding a solution might be replaced by the concept of models to think about a specific solution. To achieve a corporate social responsibility the creation of a project with some mistakes corrected after the release must be exchanged by a solid plan to establish potential issues before the project release – especially regarding the social and environmental impacts (DWOSKIN, 2019).

Nevertheless, the company’s responsibility and concern came from the beginning of the process, at each stage, focusing on environmental and social terms.

By expanding this concept to technological companies, the corporative field needs to start to understand what the implications of each process and solution – to bring perspective and multiply the discussion (MIT NEWS OFFICE, 2018).

2.7 THE COLLABORATION OF TECHNOLOGY TO THE ETHICS RISES

Several companies exhibit a very defined and rigid code of ethics, using that as marketing for their business. However, those companies do not always practice the guidelines. A classic example is the “Carwash operation” in Brazil, involving the former company Odebrecht. In this scenario, technology is increasingly limiting corruption actions, especially the archaic corruption, however, corruption to data hacking is an issue that takes the topic to a more sophisticated level. Are we in a new era, an era where more ethical companies will arise?

To answer this question, it is important to understand and establish if people care, how much they care and how much people care about ethical concerns – for example, privacy. At this point, it is fair to say that education is not the panacea. Education is not the solution for everything. To illustrate, at the Museum of Tolerance in Mexico City, part of the museum is dedicated to the holocaust, and most parts of the main executioners had an academic title. However, education is a way – and the claim must be well defined, education for what? – which is an Education paradigm. Thus, how much society cares and how much education helps are two aspects that deserve reflection.

According to Edward Snowden, people must pay the price on a personal level in order to change society (GOLDBERG, 2020). So how much are we willing to pay the price on a personal level, is it an attempt to guide an answer to what you asked me, are companies going to be more ethical? Society is going to set the tone in relation to this, with a tendency to reaches the individual level – whoever are you suffering anguish about it?

At the individual level, on this technological issue, beyond people who could be suffering somehow, professionals are a category that required to keep up to date with the new technology reality. Exponential thinking could solve at least part of the problem, however, only machines process exponentially. Thus, we return to ethics. How does it arise as an ethical question? Society is treating people like a machine, expecting from the IT professionals exponential thinking, but they remain a human being. It is an ethical implication for professionals in the area, they have to prepare themselves to give an answer to that. Two movements could represent anguish within society, to know “FOMO” – fear of missing out, and “JOMO”, which is “I joy of missing out”, representing the other extreme.

To finish, it is essential to reflect on ethical implications of a demand that exists on professionals to think exponentially, to have to update themselves in an almost impossible way and what is the answer that they will give to society, to organizations that are demanding it from them, which can be classified as a superhuman demand.

3. CONCLUSION

The technology and solutions derived from it have advanced rapidly. This scenario calls for intellectuals and society as a whole to adapt and compromise in the development of technologies that can improve their daily lives without causing harm to the workers and their families who depend on them. In this sense, it is up to the discussion of values and principles at a global level, which permeate central points of human ethics.

WORKS CITED

DWOSKIN, Elizabeth. Stanford Helped Pioneer Artificial Intelligence. Now the University Wants to Put Humans at its Center. Washington Post, March 18, 2019; Amy Adams, “Stanford University Launches the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence,” Stanford News, March 18, 2019.

GOLDBERG, Emma. Techlash’ Hits College Campuses. New York Times, updated January 15, 2020. [In addition, Crawford et al., AI Now 2019 Report, details many examples of students organizing against ethical lapses].

KATHLEEN, Manning. Organizational Theory in Higher Education. Routledge, 2017, 232 p., 2nd ed.

MIT News Office. MIT reshapes Itself to Shape the Future. MIT News, October 15, 2018.

O’BRIEN, John. Digital Ethics in Higher Education: 2020, Educause Review, May 18, 2020, Access on 28 Mar. 2021. Available at: <https://er.educause.edu/-/media/files/articles/2020/5/er20_2103.pdf>

[1] Candidato ao Mestrado em Tecnologia da Informação, Pós-Graduação Lato Senso em Perícia Judicial e Práticas Atuariais com docência em Ensino Superior, Pós-Graduação Lato Sensu em Controladoria e Finanças e Bacharel em Ciências Contábeis.

Submitted: March, 2021.

Approved: April, 2021.

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