Ethical OS Toolkit

As technologists, it’s only natural that we spend most of our time focusing on how our tech will change the world for the better. Which is great. Everyone loves a sunny disposition. But perhaps it’s more useful, in some ways, to consider the glass half empty. What if, in addition to fantasizing about how our tech will save the world, we spent some time dreading all the ways it might, possibly, perhaps, just maybe, screw everything up? No one can predict exactly what tomorrow will bring (though somewhere in the tech world, someone is no doubt working on it). So until we get that crystal ball app, the best we can hope to do is anticipate the long-term social impact and unexpected uses of the tech we create today.
If the technology you’re building right now will some day be used in unexpected ways, how can you hope to be prepared? What new categories of risk should you pay special attention to now? And which design, team or business model choices can actively safeguard users, communities, society, and your company from future risk? The last thing you want is to get blindsided by a future YOU helped create. The Ethical OS is here to help you see more clearly.

What’s in the Toolkit:

  • A checklist of 8 risk zones to help you identify the emerging areas of risk and social harm most critical for your team to start considering now.
  • 14 scenarios to spark conversation and stretch your imagination about the long-term impacts of tech you’re building today.
  • 7 future-proofing strategies to help you take ethical action today.

Toolkit in Action

“Building a startup takes a lot more than just funding,” said Cody Simms, partner at start up accelerator Techstars. “At Techstars, we are building a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Helping founders anticipate future ethical challenges that their technologies could encounter or incite is critical to their ultimate success. We’re thrilled to be working with Omidyar Network and the Institute for the Future on this initiative and to help our global network of more than 1,500 startups get ahead of problems before they happen.”“As founders, we want to think about the long term ethical impact of our business, even at the very start,” said Marc-Loyd Ramniceanu, co-founder at NetCloak, currently participating in Techstars LA. “NetCloak is a platform that democratizes data privacy, so we are applying the Ethical OS framework to shape not just our strategy and process but our core values as well. We’re excited to have the opportunity to partner with Techstars, Omidyar Network, and Institute for the Future on this exciting initiative.” Anna Mracek Dietrich, co-founder of Terrafugia Inc., a pioneer in the “flying car” industry, and now director of the company’s regulatory efforts, is using the Ethical OS to think through the long-term social and economic consequences of on-demand, hyper-local flights. Dietrich, who testified earlier this month about the emerging flying-car industry before Congress’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said: “When we started Terrafugia to make personal aviation safer, more practical, and dramatically more accessible in 2006, we were told over and over again that what we were doing was impossible. It turns out that quite the opposite was the case. Our efforts have been a key inspiration in starting a whole new ‘flying car’ and urban air mobility industry. As part of creating that industry, I spend a lot of time thinking about regulations and standards to ensure that these new vehicles are safely and responsibly built and operated. Having a tool like the Ethical OS is incredibly useful in that process as it provides a launch point from which to think about things from a fresh perspective. Aviation is a very established industry, but the implications of widespread, on-demand, hyper-local flights are something we aren’t necessarily equipped to think about using the existing paradigms. The Ethical OS framework is applicable beyond just digital work and is a valuable thought experiment for anyone whose business it is to change the world with technology.” Nicklas Bergman is a venture capitalist with Intergalactic Industries, a seed-stage investment firm focused on nanotechnologies, genes, and brain-interfacing technologies. Bergman will bring the Ethical OS to a variety of innovation settings. “Having spent 25+ years as an entrepreneur and technology investor, I’ve seen the ethical aspects of technology being often overlooked,” Bergman said. “Sometimes it’s because of time or money constraints, but mostly because of limited understanding. But these issues are becoming more and more urgent to address. From the investor/startup perspective, for example: Should you sell a scientific instrument to a research institute that also works with weapons of mass destruction development? We need more time, space and tools for discussing these issues. Enter EthicalOS, a great set of tools for anyone facing the challenge of navigating in a world where technology can have hard to predict consequences.”  

Use the EthicalOS Toolkit in Your Organization

IFTF logo
Are you interested in hands-on training for your organization? Do you want to adapt the toolkit for a specific audience or purpose? Let’s connect. The Institute for the Future offers custom workshops, keynotes and leadership training on the Ethical OS. We can collaborate with you on custom future scenarios and custom risk checklists focusing on any specific technology, product or market. Or join our Future50 program, a partnership of exceptional organizations that are turning the extreme turbulence of today into extraordinary possibilities for decades to come. The Institute’s Digital Intelligence Lab conducts deep research on the most pressing issues at the intersection of technology and society, in order to safeguard public goods like truth, privacy, and democracy. Support this ongoing research work to bring the EthicalOS and other urgent research to broader audiences; custom research projects and sponsorship opportunities are available.  
Omidyar Logo
Join the movement for more responsible technology! Omidyar Network‘s Tech and Society Solutions Lab is forging a movement and we want you to be a part of it. Be the first to hear about new tools and training to help integrate ethics and responsibility into product design and business decision processes. As a partner, you’ll be able to work with us on audits and testing of specific checklists that can be customized for your organization’s needs. Whether you are a start-up or an established technology company, an incubator program or a venture investor, we’d love to work with you.