As we rapidly spin toward the future of work we talk of advances in technology that will replace people, supplement their work, make their work easier, or make it easier for employers to track workers every minute of the day. It is possible, or will be in the not too distant future, to implant a GPS device in clothing that employees wear or even into the employee’s body. But just because it is possible does not mean it should. What role should HR play in making these decisions?
According to Wikipedia technoethics “views technology and ethics as socially embedded enterprises and focuses on discovering the ethical use of technology, protecting against the misuse of technology, and devising common principles to guide new advances in technological development and application to benefit society.”
Wikipedia goes on to say that “technoethics is an interdisciplinary research area that draws on theories and methods from multiple knowledge domains (such as communications, social sciences information studies, technology studies, applied ethics, and philosophy) to provide insights on ethical dimensions of technological systems and practices for advancing a technological society.”
I think one of the areas they are leaving out is business, and in particular, human resources.
In any business HR should be ethics central. It is not the only guardian of ethics. In fact, all parts, all managers, all leadership should be heavily involved with ethics. However, HR plays a central role in making sure the organization operates ethically. At least that is idea. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work the way we would like it to. What will happen when we are faced with ethical decisions of the future?
Ethics of the Future
We have all heard that robots will replace workers that are doing repetitive jobs, be they on the assembly line or in the accounting department. Artificial intelligence is supposed to make companies more efficient, effective and profitable, but what if all that is done at the expense of people? Is that an ethical decision? Is it ethical to displace workers just for the sake of profit? We have had to face this in the past and we did not pass that test too well, when we “offshored” jobs to cut wage and benefit costs. Perhaps this time we might want to reconsider these decisions.
Performing the role of technoethicists HR can at least make sure that the proper consideration is given to the people versus technology decisions that management teams will make. There will be many questions to answer, such as:
- Is a full replacement really necessary, or can some combination of people and technology possible?
- What should we do with displaced employees?
- Is letting machines make decisions on things proper?
- Should we force employees to wear tracking devices?
- Should we force employees to implant tracking devices?
- What are the privacy considerations?
These type of questions, and many, many more will face the technoethicist in the HR department of the future, will you be prepared?