How does one make an ethically correct decision? Due to the increasing use of software systems in more and more areas of society, this question is becoming increasingly important in software development. Ethical decisions, which are also reflected in algorithms, often have an impact on very many people through their application in machine learning or autonomous systems. It is therefore important that decisions that condition the design of the software application are clearly argued and comprehensible.
In this paper, bidt presents the EDAP (Ethical Deliberation for Agile Processes) scheme, a tool that allows agile teams to structure, clearly communicate and coherently deliberate the ethical dimension of their development decisions. This allows these decisions to be understood and scrutinised by third parties.
The key points in a nutshell
At present, it is technically impossible to programme machines or algorithms in such a way that they independently calculate ethically desirable results. Nevertheless, machines will become more and more part of our lives and more deeply integrated into our society and everyday life. Due to their enormous reach and influence on human decisions, such systems have a strong normative power. Software systems guide decisions intentionally or unintentionally, which is why consideration should be given to unintended as well as intended implications both in the development process and in technology deployment.
Currently, these design decisions are often made arbitrarily, i.e. mostly intuitively and associatively, through the interaction of developers and technology. Very often, the mostly implicit ethical understanding of superiors or rhetorically strong minorities prevails. It is therefore crucial to counteract this often unstructured approach with a semi-structured process based on scientific knowledge in order to locate normative concerns and – if and where necessary – discuss and consider them.
The EDAP scheme fits seamlessly into existing development processes, supports ethical deliberation not only of the development team but of the whole company – and does so without significant additional work. As such, it contributes to the debate on ethical systems and offers a pragmatic and practical approach to developing systems from an ethical perspective.