In this video, we explain the Guidance Ethics Approach. This approach makes it possible to connect ethical reflection to the design, implementation and use of new technologies. Rather than giving ethics the role to assess whether a technology is acceptable or not, it lets ethics accompany a technology in the various stages of its life cycle. After anticipating the potential impacts of technology on human beings and society, the method identifies the values that are at stake, in order to find creative and critical ways to connect these values to a responsible design of the technology and its environment, and to the ethical empowerment of users.
Ethical reflection is often associated with ‘assessment’. Medical ethics, for instance, typically focuses on ‘ethical assessment’, often executed by medical-ethical committees that evaluate proposals for research or intervention in order to approve or reject them. In the ethics of technology, though, the focus can also be on ‘accompaniment’. Its relevance is not only to be found in the approval or rejection of technologies, but also in the guidance of their development, implementation and use: precisely in this interplay between technology and society, values are at stake that need to be identified and taken into account in the practices around technologies. The recently developed ‘Guidance Ethics Approach’ (Verbeek and Tijink 2020; see figure) is one manifestation of this new type of applied ethics. In this approach – which takes inspiration from the approach of citizen science (Vohland et.al. 2021) and from positive design (Desmet and Pohlmeyer 2018) – ethical reflection is taken to the actual practices in which technologies are being used by citizens and professionals. In a three-step approach, it aims to (1) analyse the technology in its concrete context of use; (2) anticipate the potential implications of this technology for all relevant stakeholders, in order to identify the values that are at stake in these implications; and (3) translate these values into concrete action perspectives regarding the technology itself (redesign), its environment (regulation, reconfiguration) and its users (education, communication, empowerment).
Guidance Ethics aims to be an ethics ‘from within’ rather than ‘from outside’: it does not seek to find a distant position for ‘technology assessment’ but rather a close connection to guide the technology in its trajectory through society. Also, it aims to do ethics ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’: instead of letting ethical experts apply existing ethical approaches to a technology, it invites professionals and citizens to voice the ethical concerns they encounter in their everyday dealing with the technology. And, third, Guidance Ethics is a form of ‘positive ethics’ rather than negative ethics. This does not imply that the approach always has a positive evaluation of new technologies, but rather that its primary focus is not on defining the boundaries of what we do not want, but on identifying the conditions for what we do want. Along these lines, guidance ethics incorporates philosophical insights in the relations between technologies, human beings, and societies, and connects them to actual practices around technologies.
An ethical dialogue about technology with perspective on ethics: Guidance Ethics Approach
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