Home Contributors Westchester Business ethics in the age of artificial intelligence and big data

Business ethics in the age of artificial intelligence and big data

Amazon’s decision to build its HQ2 in Long Island City – and bring as many as 25,000 jobs to the region – has generated a host of reactions, ranging from elation about what it does for the region’s economic development to condemnation and cries of crony capitalism.

While those issues are debated, the online retailer’s presence presents a tremendous opportunity for business, higher education and political leaders to address the real challenges of the new economy as defined by innovation, entrepreneurship and technological change. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) – that is, machines that can think and learn – analytics, automation and tracking increasingly will be integrated into just about every aspect of business.

All of this underscores the importance of re-examining business ethics. We must train the next-generation workforce to understand that ethical leadership and empathy matter. Technology is improving our lives, but we can’t ignore the fact that ultimately, it is our humanity that distinguishes us from machines – even the really smart ones.

At Iona College, ethical leadership and decision-making have been integral parts of the mission and core curriculum. It’s as important as ever.

As business and technology are continuously evolving, we’ve taken a proactive approach to education by creating a transformational ecosystem of entrepreneurship on the Iona College campus. We created the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation in 2017 to develop our students into changemakers, entrepreneurs and leaders who can move the world. Entrepreneurship is a universal skill set they can apply to the IBMs, Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the world – or the next incarnation of these companies, large or small, whatever they may be.

We focus on entrepreneurship, creative innovation and design thinking. We provide innovation challenges for students to address everything from monetizing new creations to cleaning water through advanced water filtration systems. And we apply an interdisciplinary approach by weaving philosophy, art and math courses into our business curriculum so that students are not only able to think out of the box, but are capable of creating a new box altogether.

Touching every aspect of our curriculum is ethics, empathy and leadership. Anyone working in a brave new world of advanced technology must have a clear sense of right and wrong that serves as a North Star in developing or implementing new technologies, systems and approaches. Ethical decision-making must be integrated into a company’s mission, otherwise it stands to be ignored, brushed aside or overshadowed.

Integrating these issues into a corporation’s thinking could be one of its most important decisions, particularly when you consider the potential losses when customers perceive that a company doesn’t have their interests in mind.

By design, tech companies rely heavily on AI, big data, analytics, tracking, automation and engineering. One needn’t look much further than Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, where a private political group was given access to as many as 87 million people’s personal data without their consent, to know that privacy, transparency and public trust matter. Sadly, there is no shortage of ethical breaches and questionable decision-making, which is why this issue is prime for discussion.

Amazon’s announcement that it will be locating its HQ2 within miles of our campus is exciting for us — as is the news that Google will invest $1 billion in a New York City campus that will add 7,000 workers — and for so many other educational institutions that view these tech giants as an inspiration and an opportunity for graduates.

Lendynette Pacheco-Jorge is the assistant director, curricular & co-curricular programming at the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Iona College. She can be reached at lpachecojorge@iona.edu.


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