February 7, 2020

On Ethics and Ethicists in Today’s Tech Arena

Salesforce's Paula Goldman is the company's Chief Ethical and Human Use Officer. 

 

Can companies benefit from adding ethical thinking to their processes and ethical leaders to their workforces? Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, employee walkouts, and a number of other political and privacy incidents, many tech companies are hiring “ethics owners” who can operationalize ethics within their companies. This trend and its implications are the subject of a story by Linda Kinstler, published on the Protocol site, titled “Ethicists Were Hired to Save Tech’s Souls. Will Anyone Let Them?”

For the story, Kinstler interviewed Paula Goldman, Salesforce’s Chief Ethical and Human Use Officer. Goldman pointed to parallels between the need for ethicists in tech and the need for new approaches to security that arose in the 1980s.

"I think we're at a moment in the industry where we're at this inflection point," Goldman said. "I think the tech industry was here before, with security in the '80s. All of a sudden there were viruses and worms, and there needed to be a whole new way of thinking about it and dealing with it. And you saw a security industry grow up after that. And now it's just standard protocol. You wouldn't ship a major product without red-teaming it or making sure the right security safeguards are in it."

"I think we're at a similar moment with ethics," she said. "It requires not only having a set of tools by which to do the work, but also a set of norms, that it's important. So how do you scale those norms?"

"In some sense, it's the billion-dollar question," she noted. "All of these issues are extremely complicated, and there's very few of them where the answer is just absolutely clear. Right? A lot of it does come down to, which values are you holding up highest in your calculus?"

For more, read the full story here.