IT BYTES BACK! says: Does IoT need Ethics?

At the recent RSA Conference 2016 in Singapore, a panel discussion on ‘Securing Asian Nations’ brought into highlight an interesting topic of Ethics.

This came about from an initial broad-based discussion on how Asian Nations are on their way to building Smart Cities with the latter’s infrastructure fabric integrated with IoT devices and sensors, in order to function in an interactive manner with its inhabitants.

Whilst all of this may sound futuristic, fact is that the reality of Smart Cities is solid – as seen with the likes of many cities in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and even Singapore itself.

Especially and with cybersecurity, legislation and operational standards being developed together by professionals and governments alike, it will be only a matter of time when IoT advancements and interconnected living will be rolled out in every aspect of the urban dweller’s life.

In the discussion, moderator Dr Hugh Thompson, Chief Security Strategist of Blue Coat Systems Inc brought up the questions of how, or whether human ethics would be or needs to be integrated into the deployment of IoTs in Smart cities.

Giving an animated analogy, he said: “Have we ever wondered perhaps if a self-driving automated car, needed to make the decision to avert an accident with a pedestrian, choosing whether or not to swerve to collide with a lamp post thus endangering its driver?”

Though the room broke into laughter, the questions got many of the audience thinking about the issue – very possibly a real issue in the days of IoT to come, drilling down to the issue of ethics in the decisioning of IoT networks and devices, which form the fabric of supporting Smart Cities currently in the making across the world.

Panelists Zulfikar Ramzan, CTO, RSA Security; Hilary M. Wandall, Chairman, IAPP; Paul O’Rourke, Cybersecurity, AP Ernst & Young; Alex Taverner, Head of Cyber, Commercial Solutions, JAPAC, BAE Systems  – gave interesting discourse on the idea – ranging from requiring to infuse higher levels of ethical norms in Smart City public sphere areas that directly involve humans such as healthcare; to deploying cultural ethics according to different countries.

But in the end, the takeaway was that that the integration of ethics to influence the ‘intelligent machine’ decisioning of IoT devices and sensors will be an area of huge debate because of the huge diversity where humans, societies and technologies is concerned.

IT BYTES BACK! says: Something to think about – how would an automated, self-serve blood transfusion IoT device decide to proceed in dealing with say, a Scientologist believer in a life-and-death situation? Which teaching or scripture does it refer to; is it even aware of the patient’s stand in such situations; or is the device’s final decision made by its IoT programmer following technical standards?

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