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.
Trust is the social glue that binds people, communities, countries together. Trust helps to increase the well-being, success, and stability of societies by reducing friction and making it easier to cooperate. Trust builds social capital, the networks that are built upon solid relationships and which enable smooth societal functioning. According to landmark research by Robert (See more)
Equality, justice and fairness
Aharmonious society is built on equality, justice, and fairness. Three of them are neighbouring values. With its inherent tendency to concentrate data and economic power, digital technology contributes towards inequalities in modern society. As digital growth does not ‘lift all boats equally’ many communities are left behind. Digitalisation, together with globalisation and economic policies, is (See more)
Diversity starts with our uniqueness compared to other human beings. It continues with our age, sex, race, culture, religion, profession, and other aspects of our individual identity. Diversity is also about our local communities, regions, and nations. Respect for diversity, while building on our common values and desires, is key in building a prosperous, inclusive, (See more)
Peace is one of the core values of humanity and a pillar of the international system as codified by the UN Charter and many other international conventions and treaties. Peace is more than just the absence of violence and conflict. It requires a holistic approach to human development that also addresses the roots of the (See more)
Solidarity and common good
As social beings, we are defined by our interactions with others through our social, spiritual, political, and other relations. Solidarity underpins these relations from local communities to nation states and ultimately, humanity as a whole. Solidarity takes on a new form and relevance in our relations with others on social media platforms, online games, VR, (See more)
Protection of natural habitat
Our survival depends on our natural habitat – our air, water, and earth. Harmony between humans and nature is critical for healthy lives and long-term prosperity. However, we have put a lot of strain on our environment with dire consequences and a significant risk to the future of humanity. This has prompted political dialogue and (See more)
Human well-being and prosperity
Throughout history, the betterment of human well-being has been a result of technological and scientific progress. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help us understand the effects of digitalisation on human well-being and prosperity (Figure 2). Figure 2. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Source: Wikimedia Commons In the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, digitalisation has become a vital tool in (See more)
Human agency and creativity
Free will, the cornerstone of human agency and creativity, underpins our daily life in many ways. One is our freedom to make choices that are related to our private life, our economic consumption habits, politics, and so on. The ability to choose is essential for human dignity, well-being, and societal progress. For a long time, (See more)
Human dignity relates to the recognition of the intrinsic and equal worth of each individual human being. Fundamental to this dignity is human agency and the realisation of the individual, creative, and professional potential of each person. The protection of human dignity underpins many human rights, from privacy to freedom of expression and a wide (See more)
Human life and embodiment
The protection of human life is a core value that is codified in religious texts, political declarations, and legal regulation. The centrality of human life is reiterated in regulations and policy documents for the digital space. For example, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2021) Recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence (See more)