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Ethical Considerations in the Design and Management of Emerging Technologies: Engineering Management Takeaways and Resources

15 Feb 2020 4:27 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

by Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM

As highlighted in my recent ASEM blog post, the design and management challenges facing the engineering manager in the emerging technologies space (i.e. autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) such as artificial intelligence (AI) technologies) are daunting.  While the post primarily focused on matters of diversity and inclusion (D&I), it is important to note that these considerations align with the need for greater attention to ethics in addressing the mounting controversies surrounding the implementation of these technologiesIEEE has recognized this need; and, through its Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (The IEEE Global Initiative), has released Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, First Edition (EAD1e).

Ethically Aligned Design provides practitioner-oriented guidance in embedding ethics in the definition, development, and deployment of emerging technologies. Chapter 3, Methods to Guide Ethical Research and Design, is of particular importance and value for the engineering manager.  Leveraging the insights presented in Chapter 3, I offer the following engineering management takeaways inclusive of resources to assist the engineering manager in implementation. 

  1. Cross-functional and interdisciplinary collaborations in the design and management of emerging technologies are critical.  Unfortunately, often as a function of the depoliticization of western engineering education, the engineering manager is often ill-equipped to appropriately understand and address non-technical factors.  Thus, the need for cross-functional and interdisciplinary conversations and interventions during all stages of design and management with and by relevant experts is of import in appropriately understanding and addressing the relevant societal and ethical impacts and considerations.  Movements such as The Algorithmic Justice League, particularly within the Artificial Intelligence (AI) space, are offering strategic and tactical level guidance that can be leveraged by the engineering manager in facilitating these requisite, more collaborative engagements.

  2. Engaging ethical centering design and development methods are vital:  Mark Searle in the New York Times article titled, Top Universities Join to Push Public Interest Technology, states that as “technology becomes more ubiquitous, it is essential we consider the impacts on people, whether unintended consequences or designs that exclude certain groups or disadvantage them in some way”.  Engaging design frameworks such Value Sensitive Design (VSD) can assist.  VSD design methodologies actively account for human values throughout the design process.  Tools such as the suite of VSD toolkits offered by the Value Sensitive Design Research Lab at the University of Washington provide the engineering manager support in implementing a VSD approach.

  3. Appropriate frameworks for accountability are needed in safeguarding vulnerable and marginalized populations:  “Even more imperative to the conversation of which technologies impact these communities is the ways we as designers go about designing these systems, particularly the ways we engage in methods that design with and not just for marginalized communities” states Christina N. Harrington in her Medium piece titled, Towards Equitable Design When We Design With Marginalized Communities.  In this vein of suitably designing with and not for, a means in safeguarding is to more actively engage impacted populations.  In implementation, a strategy could be “forcing tech companies to include people from affected groups on ethics boards”, asserts Fabian Rogers in the article titled, The Battle to Embed Ethics in AI Research.  Initiatives such as the AI Assembly can offer the engineering manager perspective and insights on both defining and enacting these crucial safeguards.

The ethical challenges in the design and management of emerging technologies clearly are great.  The recently released Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems not only advances the needed discourse but offers a framing for defining specific engineering management actions in addressing these challenges.  While the ethical controversies surrounding the deployment of these technologies continue to grow, the thoughtful implementation of the offered takeaways in design and management could aid in finally and sustainably turning the tide.

About the Author

Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM is the Director, Engineering Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His teaching and scholarly activities are centered on advocating for more humanity-centered approaches to the design and management of technological systems. Winchester is a Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM) with over ten (10) years of industry experiences. Active in also advancing engineering management as a practice, Winchester is currently the Co-Director, Professional Development & Continuing Education for the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM). Woodrow is also under contract with the CRC Press to write Inclusion by Design: Future Thinking Approaches to New Product Development (ISBN: 978-0-367-41687-4); co-authored with Frances Alston, PhD, CHMM, CPEM and slated for a late 2020 release.

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