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Why Ethics Can’t Save Tech


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As fake news floods our feeds and small businesses suffer due to disruption from startups, many tech designers are hearing exhortations to focus on ethics. There are tool kits, checklists and even a sort of hippocratic oath for designers to take. These efforts are laudable and understandable, and they can help in some ways — notably, in reducing harms of bias. But ethics also have limits because private sector capitalism is a force that is much bigger than anything that any one person can do. Instead, a countervailing force, such as the public sector, is needed to shape our technology. How might designers better understand, and even seek to work with and strengthen the public sector — whose role it is to shape society?

Alexandra is the author of the new Rosenfeld Media title, Deliberate Intervention: Using Policy and Design to Blunt the Harms of New Technology