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Avoiding the ethical pitfalls of a data-driven world

4TU.techtalks | Remarkable new technologies are developed every single day. From robotics to precision medicine and from IT to climate technology, many of the innovations are transforming the way we live and interact. The advantages are manifold, but there are also risks. Aiming to address this challenge responsibly, insurance company Achmea wants to prepare for this in a responsible way and is supported in this process by 4TU.

Nobody can possibly object: new technologies must be sustainable, democratic and fair. They must ensure their users’ autonomy, security and privacy. But what do those values actually mean? Are they universal, or subject to interpretation? In fact, who decides what is allowed and which risks we accept in technological designs? And what about our standards and values themselves – to what extent are they influenced by technological developments?

These are all extremely complex questions that have no simple answers. Yet they need to be addressed when setting frameworks for new developments. Increasingly, it’s not only engineers and politicians who are looking into these questions, but also ethicists and philosophers. They are trained to look beyond the boundaries of disciplines, business sectors, cultures and generations.

“The world is completely different now compared to some 20 years ago,” says Philip Brey, professor of Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Twente. “Many developments are based on what we now call 'big data': enormous amounts of data. These have become very important for many organizations, who use them extract all kinds of valuable information. At the same time, there are many complex dilemmas involved. Technological, but certainly also socio-ethical. ”

“We are now transitioning to being a ‘digital and data-driven insurance company’,” says Karin Bos, Director Non-Life Insurance Private Individuals at Achmea. “We think it is very important that we don’t let ourselves be guided by the technological push, but that we keep in control of the implications. That is why we called in the help of the University of Twente in 2019.”

Text: Nienke Beintema

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