Digital technology is not an end in itself. It should serve the core values of humanity. Thus, there should be moral continuity even in the face of new and disruptive technologies. ‘Thou shall not kill’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ do not become obsolete simply because new technologies for killing and stealing have been invented, such as cyberattacks on hospitals and health care centres during the pandemic.
This moral continuity is built around core values that are intrinsic to humans. As Kant argued in defining human dignity, these core values are ‘given’ to us without transactional importance: ‘What has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; what on the other hand is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity’ (Kant, 1998, pp. 42‒43)
Values are interdependent, reinforcing, and sometimes conflicting. They should not be viewed in isolation. In some cases, a delicate balance needs to be established between, for instance, the encryption of private communications and access to such communications by authorities to prevent serious crime, carry out investigations, and fight terrorism.
Values are global in aspiration and local in application. They can be interpreted and applied differently across distinct communities and cultures. For instance, a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known as the ‘Moral Machine’ showed contrasting applications of the same value. Around 2.3 million respondents from over 100 countries were asked to choose between saving the life of an elderly person, that of an adult, or that of a child, in 13 life-or-death scenarios related to autonomous vehicles. Although the preservation of human life was identified as a shared value among all survey respondents, respondents from Eastern cultures chose to save the elderly person, and respondents from Western cultures chose to save the child (Huang, 2018).
The list of ten core values starts with four values related to individual humans (human life, dignity, well-being and prosperity, agency and creativity) via the protection of our natural habitat to five values that shape life with others from family via local communities to national states and the global community.