Liz O’Sullivan is a techie. She’s also interested in ethics. She landed a job at an artificial intelligence (robots! drones!) company. She was happy to merge her interests at her workplace. But two years in, she faced a dilemma: She objected to some of her employer’s business practices. O’Sullivan became part of a “growing backlash against unethical tech.”
Formally speaking, “ethics” is a field of study—like philosophy or geography—that focuses on discerning right from wrong. A company’s ethical code guides how it conducts business. So where was O’Sullivan’s conflict?
O’Sullivan’s employer was developing aerial photography and object detection tools. They were part of Project Maven, a government drone surveillance program. O’Sullivan realized the technology could eventually be used for self-flying weapons. In the wrong hands, she believed, those weapons could bring harm to innocent people. As a tech employee, she was making good money. She quit anyway.
O’Sullivan says she “had to follow my conscience.” She’s not alone. In the past two years, more and more U.S. tech employees have wanted their industry to admit what they believed were ethical problems.
Every day, workers, students, parents, bosses—all human beings—must make right-wrong decisions. God gave every person a conscience to either “accuse or even excuse” actions. (Romans 2:15) He doesn’t condone operating outside of the law or against the conscience.
In some cases, ethics issues are becoming more important to tech workers than money. Despite huge salaries, many are questioning how their work affects others. They’re asking tough questions: Does it harm people or the environment? Will it addict users? They’ve also pushed for more control over how employers use their work.
Today’s tech employees are taking up a variety of what they see as problems. In their opinions, some of those include:
• urging employers to transition to renewable energy;
• demanding companies stop providing tech services to some federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Army;
• protesting a search engine that involves censorship.
Some companies are listening. Amazon has committed to sustainability. Google and Facebook are both pledging to pay temporary workers better and to provide them with some benefits. And following intense employee outcry, Google declined to renew its contract with the Pentagon for work on Project Maven.
People may disagree on the issues, but they don’t disagree that in today’s tech industry, taking a stand is trending.