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ICAEW Thought Leadership

New technologies, ethics and accountability

This thought leadership report delves into the ethics of new technology.
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The seismic developments currently taking place in AI and algorithms are both exciting and morally concerning. What happens when machines do our thinking and decision-making for us? Where does the buck stop and who is accountable? And what can the accounting industry bring to this most complex of ethical dilemmas?

Why are ethics important in tech?

Ethics has become a hot topic in tech in the last year or two, and it’s not hard to see why. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and reported bias in recruitment and financial services algorithms are just a few examples of the issues resulting from new technology use.

This is harming people in the real world, as well as reducing trust and confidence in businesses. So getting to grips with these issues is vital if we are to protect people, safeguard professional reputations and maximise the potential benefits from technology.

This report will discuss the need to create an ethical framework to increase trust and confidence, with clear accountability backing it up.

What does this mean for accountants?

As accountants we need to make sure that our own code of ethics remains relevant and robust in a digital world: for example, who is accountable for the outcomes of complex accounting algorithms? 

Accountants are also well placed to help businesses get to grips with some of these new challenges. Board members can ask challenging questions about the ethics of new business models and there are also opportunities for auditors to develop new assurance services around these tech developments.

Watch ethics and new technologies lecture

The 2019 Tech Faculty lecture looked at the impact of ethics on the development of new technologies. Delivered by Professor Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute, the lecture considered the benefits of taking an ethical approach to new technologies, as well as some of the key challenges in implementation. The lecture also featured a response by Catherine Miller, interim CEO doteveryone, and a perspective from Kirstin Gillon, Tech Faculty.