What are the consequences of the language we use for technology, and, how we describe the frameworks regarding technology and its creation, use, and deployment? The language used to describe technology has the possibility to deceive and be abusive. How language is used demonstrates what can occur when one party is able to assert linguistic power over another. The way in which organizations frame their relationships with technology is one such power asymmetry. This article examines the complications of the imagery used for ethics in technology. Then, the author offers a brief overview of how language influences our perceptions. The frames used to describe phenomena, including ethical frameworks and technology, allow for the creation of heuristics, or shortcuts that are “good enough” for understanding what is being described and for decision-making. Therefore, descriptions matter for relaying meaning and constructing narratives related to ethical uses of technical systems. After this, the author investigates what we mean by ethics and the codes that corporate, governmental, and other organizations use to depict how they understand their relationship to the technology they create and deploy. The author explores three examples of frames of ethics and descriptions of technology, which though appearing progressive, once understood holistically, fail to adequately describe technology and its possible impact. The author ends this article with a discussion of the complexity of describing and communicating ethical uses of technology.
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J. E. McNealy would like to acknowledge the collective wisdom of the Ethical Tech Collective and those who participate in the Ethical Tech Working Group.
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