Jean Lievens: Mark P. Mills on Big Data 10 Technology Trends and Related Ethical Questions

Advanced Cyber/IO, Ethics
Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

The 10 Most Fascinating And Provocative If Not Alarming Technology Trends


If you want to fire up your neurons here at year-end, I recommend reading over the now annual release of “emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and technology” from the University of Notre Dame’s Reilly Center.

Mark P. Mills
Mark P. Mills

(Full disclosure, I’m on the Center’s Advisory Board – and though I wish I could take credit for it, I had no input on the list.)

Even though the list from Notre Dame is more provocative than IBM’s, each and every technology has already been demonstrated or deployed.  So while for the uninitiated some of the following may seem like science fiction, there is the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction.”  In fact, much of what’s on this list has inspired novels and movies.  And the Reilly team has helpfully provided links to articles and resources to dig deeper into each domain’s state of affairs.

Following, the Reilly top 10 along with a sampling of their associated ethical questions posed.

Predictive policing

  • “At what point does the possibility of a crime require intervention?”

Do-it-yourself cyborgs

  • “Does turning animals [cockroaches] into cyborgs treat animals as ‘toys’ or give us a new appreciation for their complexity?”

Data chip implants

  • “Can these implants become a mandatory form of ID?”


  • “[How does this change] the norms and values in human interaction?”

Virtual currency

  • “Will Bitcoin lead a revolution in currency, or go the way of the Zimbabwean dollar?”


  • “Neurostimulation can be used to boost motor function, improve memory…Do we have a responsibility to be the best humans we can be?”


  • “One nation’s policy decision could immediately and adversely affect another country’s economic well-being.”

Property rights in space

  • “What rights do private companies have to outer space if they provide the primary, or even sole, means to reach it?”

Automated law enforcement

  • “At what point is human instinct and judgment necessary in the enforcement of law or prevention of crimes?”

Human-machine interfaces

  • “When we can make our bodies part machine, is it necessary to redefine personhood?”

It should be no surprise that, like IBM’s list, most of what drives the Reilly list arises from the systemic impacts of Big Data and the related techno-ecosystem.   As big as Big Data has been made out to be in the blizzard of media attention it received this past year, there is much more yet to come, and some of it surprisingly soon as the Reilly list’s hyperlinks make clear.  The ethical challenges posed are not just relevant for we citizens but for politicians and business leaders as well.

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