Tech Workers Ask: “Are We the Baddies?”

An increasing number of tech workers, at a wide range of companies, are deeply worried at how their employers have exacerbated inequality, extremism, and polarization across the planet.

“There is that feeling of ‘oh no, wait, where is this all going?,’” says Jeremiah Warren, a 29-year-old digital media creative who has worked with a wide variety of California-based startups. Warren, too, recalled the Mitchell and Webb meme to describe the concern that tech workers are helping the bad guys. Lily Nguyen, a 24-year-old creative technologist who grew up in Gilroy, says that since she entered the tech workforce with an internship at Uber, the ethics of the industry’s biggest employers have been questionable. “There’s no escape from it, whatever company you work at,” she says.

Tech workers grappling with the ethical implications of their industry is not a new phenomenon — the term “technoethics” was coined in 1974 by Argentinian-Canadian philosopher Mario Bunge to describe the responsibility of technologists and engineers to pursue society’s best interests.

Today, tech ethics organizations like “All Tech Is Human” frequently argue that tech workers must be empowered to be responsible innovators. In their recent report, “The Business Case for AI Ethics,” the organization argues that a three-pronged approach is necessary for operationalizing Artificial Intelligence: Worker empowerment, followed by leadership buy-in, and everyone having access to the information (“knowledge base”) they need to make responsible, ethical decisions.

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