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Department of Information Technology

Technology and ethics

The course gives the required credit points in ethics for TekNat students.

Start date: 23 October 2009, 10.15-12.00, room Pol 1113
ECTS credits: 5
Course period: 2009 - 2010
Maximum number of participants: 30
Apply before: 2009-10-15

Target group/s and recommended background:

PhD students from all the disciplines of TekNat. No special prerequisities.

Contact person:

Iordanis Kavathatzopoulos

Course literature:

1. Computer ethics and professional responsibility. Edited by Terell Ward Bynum and Simon Rogerson. Blackwell, 2003. ISBN 1-85554-845-3.
2. Papers

Aim of course

Development and use of modern technology, for example IT, industrial applications and biotechnology, affect people, organizations and society. Modern technology offer new possibilities and therefore causes new ethical issues. The way these issues are handled determines the effectiveness and usability of technology. There is a big risk that necessary and expensive technical systems may be abandoned or used suboprimally because of ethical conflicts. People and organizations may be hurt when they doubt or refuse to adopt a certain technology. Considering ethical aspects significant to efficiency and effectiveness of technology demands personal skills, suitable cooperation and coordination processes, and access to ethical tools and methods. This has to be done early in the development process of IT systems as well as during installation and ordinary running of the systems. The course will offer knowledge in the areas of technology ethics and psychology ethics. Participants will train their ability to apply tools and methods in handling moral issues connected to technology construction and use. Focus will not be on moral philosophical theories but on methods and practical skills for people working with modern technology.

Contents, study format and form of examination

Lectures, seminars, group discussions and group work with focus on technology ethics. Application and evaluation of special tools during development, deployment and running of technology systems.
Treatment of real-life technology ethical conflicts and problems to exercise ethical competence.


10-12, room Subject Presenter Literature, links, etc.
23 Oct, 1113 Introduction Iordanis Slides; Apologia Sokratous; Fraud in science, Torture in the name of science
27 Oct, 1211 Ethical skills Iordanis Slides; Papers; Kant; Myths, beliefs and Ethical Confidence
06 Nov, 1145 Technology ethics Group I: Aamir Razaq, Hasan Jafri, Qaisar Abbas, Sultan Akhtar Slides; Bynum-Rogerson I; Privacy and politics
13 Nov, 1145 Professional ethics Group II: Gunnika Isaksson-Lutteman, Rebecka Janols, Simon Tschirner, Alexander Arvei Yngling Slides; Bynum-Rogerson II-III; Conflicts 1, 2, 3, 4
20 Nov, 1145 Ethical issues Group III: Karin Ågren, Malin Johansson, Erik Lindahl, Adrian Bahne, Anna Malou Petersson Slides; Bynum-Rogerson IV, DNA evidence fabrication, Charlatanry in science and in publishing, Special student, Human enhancement, Internet and human rights, ACTA
27 Nov, 1113 Training, exercises Iordanis, Mikael Papers: Autonomy Method
08 Dec, 1211, 13-15 Seminar All participants Projects

Individual projects

PoP first 1, 2

Karin, Malin, Erik, Gunnika, Simon, Sultan

EthXpert first

Anna Malou, Rebecka, Alexander, Adrian, Hassan, Aamir


Find a moral problem that you feel is important for you. Describe it, state the dilemma and identify the owner of the moral problem.
Answer the OLE questionnaire
Perform the first analysis, until Friday 4 December
After it is completed perform the second analysis
Answer the evaluation questionnaire
Evaluate all three tools (OLE, PoP, EthXpert) with your own words (100-300 words)

Everything should be documented: 1)Description of the moral problem, 2)OLE, 3)PoP, 4)Questionnaire, 5)Own evaluation. All of this on paper which you can print out and take with you.
EthXpert analysis has to be saved in the xml file which has to be e-mailed to Iordanis.

Ethical issues

Aamir Razaq:

During my PhD studies I am working on the project to use high surface area conducting polymer sheets for the ion-exchange and biomolecules. My project is basically at the interface of chemistry, physics and biology disciplines. Each single scientific discipline has its own prospective on professionalism and ethics which sometimes create new ethical aspects when emerge with other scientific areas. Approximately next fifty years needed to see the interaction of polymer science and cell biology, the most fundamental difference between the operating environments of biology and polymer science is the issue of thermodynamic equilibrium. Polymer scientists are used to systems which are deviated slightly away from equilibrium, while biological systems are driven far from equilibrium. The ethical issue here is how much undoubted and universal variation from the equilibrium is acceptable to incorporate this most basic parameter of the life for synthetic devices. I think the deep understandings of the system of both polymer and biological scientist on behalf of ethical principles of science can leads to solve the issue.

Hasan Jafri:

Field: - Electron Microscopy and Nanoengineering (Material analysis)
My PhD project is based on fabrication or engineering of nano-size objects and later find their electrical or electronics properties like graphene, nanoelectrodes, nanoparticles etc.

o A major problem is identification of ethical issue
a. Nanotechnology is very new field, still it is hard to actually spot the issue as only scientist and researcher are working in this field and most of time we have tendency to overlook ethical aspect to get new scientific break down.
o Funding of nanotechnology
a. Mostly funded by government and they some tries to keep maintain certain authority over findings
o Legal and Principal and laws
a. It is very new field, there is no existing professional code of conduct
b. Nanoscience is a mixture of Physics , chemistry, bio and technology, and everyone with a knowledge can enter in this field, then who can make some laws or policies
c. Absence of international law for safe nanotechnology

Some of very basic ethical issues are
1. Nanotechnology might give us "Power of gods"
2. It is possible to estimate or predict health or body condition of human after certain period of time e.g. by decoding DNA
3. Toxicity of majority of nano material is still unknown and people from different backgrounds and field are working with them without any awareness
4. We can develop technology which can invade privacy with any trace like some surveillance devices
5. It may generate new or eliminate existing ethical issues like assembling of food (generating cells) instead of slaughtering and reproducing animals
6. If certain new technology is developed, who will be main beneficiary, and do we need to share it with other countries.
7. In last I think most important issue is, competition of bringing out new results might take away some basic human values.
1. The Ethics of Nanotechnology, Nanotechnology Now
2. Andrew Chen, "The Ethics of Nanotechnology",

Sultan Akhtar:

The area of my research is characterization of light element materials (H, C, O) and soft matter by Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM). The one of the soft matter and light element material is DNA. I am work with attachment of different nanoparticles to DNA bundles and see these DNA composites by TEM. The main aim of this study is to get detailed information on the physicochemical mechanisms underlying a biosensor assay, a novel substrate-free magnetic DNA bioassay suitable as a platform for low-cost and easy-to-use diagnostic devices. It can be used to detect the certain diseases of the patient by taking a small blood sample.
Now a day, thousands of companies from the World are spending millions of dollars on the study of human genome and they want to store and analyze the genetic information in vast DNA databases. Rresearchers have identified more than four thousand diseases that are caused by individual genes of DNA. One ethical issue is the use of information obtained through DNA testing; particularly to insurance companies, governmental agencies or even by the other members of the family. Moreover, few religious groups in the United States formally have addressed specific ethical issues related to human genetics in general. Is my present study also has these kinds of ethical issues or not?

Qaisar Abbas:

Gunnika Isaksson-Lutteman:

In my research project I currently doing research on train traffic controllers and their work situation, environment, organisation and how they learn their work. Our research team practice action research. This means that our aim is just not to study and observe, but also to make a change in the organisation. And also we work together very closely with the objects we are observing in our research, we work more together than separetely. One ethical issue with this for me is, how can we come and say this and that are right and this is wrong you have to change this. They have worked with controlling train traffic in 20 years or more, and I have observed them for a couple of ours. How can I now what is best for them? And also they are expecting me to be proffesional on this. Both on programming and on train traffic control. And on being researcher. But the fact and reality is that I am learning as I go along, because that what it is to be Ph D student. But they are expecting me to know everything, because we have the right to change their organisation and their way of working just after a couple of hours of observation as I stated in the first segment.

Rebecka Janols:

In my research I have an Action research approach. It means that the research has two goals: to make changes in the organisation and a research contribution. In this approach there are some ethical dilemmas:

  • What does better mean? I will help the organisation to make changes, for whom is it going to be better? How can I know that it will be better?
  • The actors´ different goals. We as researcher, and the organisation, that we make research together with can have different goals. Who will decide what kind of problem that we are going to deal with? Who will decide the method, in our case they want us to handle to many different problems.
  • PhD student as a action researcher. Am I to inexperienced for being a AR- researcher?
  • Bad system? The system that they are using have bin criticized by the care staff. Especially one module, the one that handle drugs. The care staff think that it is't patient safe. We can see that it is not so good, but it is not worse then other similar drug modules. What is our responsibility? Is it to tell the system owner that it is not safe and try to stop the implementation or not?

Mikael Laaksoharju

When researching about ethical processes, without taking a position for certain values or norms, the most striking moral problem somewhat paradoxically turns out to be a consequence of the increased awareness about morality. Through my studies, I have come to amplify my skepticism towards the restricting function in arbitrary knee-jerk moralizing. When confronted with a moral obligation, I cannot help questioning why and how it ended up as an obligation. Not always do I agree with what I identify as the most likely reason. In fact, I find that moral obligations sometimes are created to protect values that I do not agree on. Still my personal morality urges me to follow the obligations. I am theoretically capable of criticizing the way society functions, but I am nevertheless morally inhibited from acting in a way that is deviating too heavily from the norms. In such cases one could say that my internalized morality rescues me from my own reasoning. Morality counters friction in a society, which probably is a good thing.

Although I am generally behaving well inside the boundaries of norms, I have lost my aversion towards hypothetical reasoning about them. I have come to accept that the scope of morality that I judge people by is not universally agreed upon; that the good and the true that I strive to achieve is just one localized social construct. This carries a touch of nihilism that I do not feel comfortable with. To engage in analyzing ethics can be passivating, and passivity is a moral problem.

The challenge for me is thus to keep convincing myself that my own inherited, delimiting morality in itself is proof enough to defend my personal preferences, at the same time as I acknowledge and respect that other people may not necessarily agree on them, at the same time as I strive to become more self-critical about my inclinations. How this sums up is not obvious.

Simon Tschirner:

Goal of my current project is to develop a user interface that should improve the information environment in train cabins. The systems used today provide such little information, that basically every new system would be an improvement, as long as it does not provide information in a way that would disturb engine drivers and require too much of their attention. I see three issues leading to ethical questions:

  1. We have close collaboration with industrial partners that will implement the information system. These partners have a tight schedule and plan to start the development very soon. If we are not able to provide a well designed user interface in time, they might produce an interface that is not perfect or even worse that might have acute flaws, which are unobvious at first sight.
  2. Even though the goal of the project is far from making people dispensable, the technology developed during the project could build a part of a system for autonomously driving trains.
  3. The system might make some of the engine driver's skills unnecessary. If the developed interface cannot approach this problem in the right way, experienced engine drivers might get frustrated, since their skills are not valuable anymore. They might lose those skills and inexperienced engine drivers might not be able to develop them.

Alexander Arvei Yngling:

Karin Ågren:

Of course my subject suffers from the same ethical problems as many others, e.g. handling of data, removal of not trusted data points, etc, but I wanted to shed light on a more different problem, unique for space physics. This is not directly related to the research I am doing myself, but I hope it is still alright to use as an example.

What I want to bring up is the ethical problem with the exploration of space. Through the last decades we have been sending several satellites into space, some of which that have also landed on various bodies in the solar system, e.g. Titan and Mars. So far we have not detected any extra-terrestrial life, but there are many people that believe that the chances still remain, especially on Mars. If we were to detect microbial life on Mars, we would face a moral conflict on what to do next. Would we know how to investigate that further without causing damage to it, which could possibly even lead to extinction of the entire life form? And if we do not, which most probably is the case; do we then have the rights to even start such an exploration? Who will defend the Martian rights? Another thing to consider is the fact that even though we eventually would find a way for us to co-exist with extra-terrestrial life: how can we then be certain that this will not change the evolution of the other life form?

Malin Johansson:

In my research I work with photocatalytic tungstenoxide thin films. The substrates I use can be calcium fluoride and germanium bought from a quite known company. They have further bought them from a subcontractor. Sometimes when I open a package with substrates there are small drawings done by a child on the paper surrounding the pieces. This has happened about three times since I started here but I have experienced it before, at that time working on an optical company. They ordered substrates from China. I think the companies are using children as workforces. What would you do in this situation? And what is ethical right? To make people loose there jobs? Finally, maybe I am totally wrong about this and it is not employees who have done those drawings.

Erik Lindahl:

My research is on how to produce materials a way which enables a high control of thicknesses of thin films and possibilities to grow materials in very high aspect ratio structures. Possible future applications for this technique and materials are found in ex. electronics when techniques and materials of today suffer from severe scaling down issues. Applying the techniques to industrial scales lead to the use of large quantities of in many cases very toxic gases, liquids and solids which needs to be handled not only by the workers at the company producing the device. So do we need a faster and smaller memory device or computer at the expense of working conditions and the environment?

Adrian Bahne:

Psychoacoustics and audio signal processing - my field of research is not really offer a huge variety of typical ethical research problems. Some people try to sell psychoacoustic effects like binaural beats as meditation aids, questionable if this is ethically relevant for my research. My aim is to come up with a method to predict perceived audio quality and in general make audio systems sound better. Maybe someone would be offended by pleasant sound? A system measuring perceived audio quality would most likely reduce jobs in some areas, but raise jobs in the development of these systems. Those systems may offend people as they would predict what they think and feel. If such a system is possible to produce, it may scare people, especially if it would be possible to extend this to other fields of perception. On the other hand the consequence would be a better product for each person and better overall quality as quality control processes would be much more stable. Hence, the most relevant ethical questions is: Does the mankind as it behaves at the moment deserve better sound quality - or should we be forced to listen to crappy sound systems as punishment for other bad stuff we do?

Anna Malou Petersson:

Photovoltaics - ethical issues
Photovoltaics: Electricity is produced directly from solar energy, in general by means of semiconductors. Solar energy is a renewable energy source.
Research funding applications
Since IPCC presented their report on global warming, there has been much focus on renewable energy sources and the relevance of intensified research to come up with alternatives to conventional energy sources. It can be tempting to mention renewable energies in research applications to increase chances to receive funding, although the research is perhaps not directly applicable within the area (e.g. fundamental research that might result in several different applications).
Aim of research
Some people seem to tend to get involved in small details that appear to be irrelevant for commercialization and actual decrease of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. They are more interested in advanced research than to improve the environment.
There is still a question mark how "retired" or dysfunctional solar panels will be recycled. In order to be truly environmental friendly, the solar energy industry must prove that they take responsibility throughout the entire life cycle of the equipment.

Updated  2009-12-07 12:33:52 by Iordanis Kavathatzopoulos.