Digital Ethics Group - Nachwuchsforschungsgruppe
"Ethics of digitization"

funded by Zentrum Digitalisierung.Bayern

Despite its social and economic benefits in many areas, digitization faces intuitive defeat based on reservations, worries, or even fear by large parts of the society. The reasons lie in the specific nature of the current technological change: 1) The new technologies are so complex that they produce results that even experts no longer understand in all details or even in their entirety. The attribution of responsibility becomes a substantial ethical issue. 2) Speed and complexity of associated social changes intellectually and emotionally overtax many people. People no longer see themselves as actors who influence the social changes, but as passive recipients who can only react to rapid transformations. 3) In contrast to earlier, singularly occurring technical changes, people are exposed to a multitude of simultaneous upheavals. Their combination and mutual interactions strain people. 4) The consequences of rapid technological development are not locally limited. Topics such as logistics, social media, or military technology concern humanity as a global community. Developments and problems in other societies show their effects on us in Europe and vice versa.

Emphasizing the superior performance of new technologies may not be sufficient to enhance their acceptability and responsible use. Rather, a profound understanding of the mechanisms that inhibit their acceptance and ethically reflected application is crucial. Experiments in behavioral ethics show that people are neither completely rational actors, nor is their behavior chaotic or irrational. Rather, people follow their own bounded rationality, characterized by systematic patterns and limitations of motivation, affection, cognition, and adaptation. Thus, only when we understand the behavioral mechanisms influencing the acceptance and ethical use of digitized technologies, we can set incentives to which people will respond and develop strategies to promote the acceptability and ethical usage of the new technologies and guide the design of supporting environments. In our research group, we use state-of the art behavioral field and laboratory experiments to better understand the cognitive and behavioral complexities that are critical for a broader range of ‘real-world’ contexts where digitization is pivotal and creates new ethical dilemmas and that might deviate from relevant influencing factors in analogue spheres. Our bottom-up approach meets the requirements of a democratic society by informing policy makers on the notions of the population concerning digitization.