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Future Ethics

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‘Eloquent, insightful and utterly readable: a must read for anyone who is inventing the future or cares about living in it.’ —Christina Wodtke, Stanford University

‘Cennydd’s long-lens view of ethics is exactly what designers, product managers and builders of today’s digital products need.’ —Azeem Azhar, Exponential View

‘Destined to become a well-thumbed classic.’ —Alan Cooper, author of The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.

Technology was never neutral; its social, political, and moral impacts have become painfully clear. But the stakes will only get higher as connected cameras will watch over the city, algorithms oversee society’s most critical decisions, and transport, jobs, and even war will become automated. The tech industry hasn’t yet earned the trust these technologies demand.

Based on Cennydd’s years of research and consulting, Future Ethics transforms modern ethical theory into practical advice for designers, product managers, and software engineers alike. Cennydd uses the three lenses of modern ethics to focus on some of the tech industry’s biggest challenges: unintended consequences and algorithmic bias, the troubling power of persuasive technology, and the dystopias of surveillance, autonomous war, and a post-work future.

Future Ethics is an intelligent, quietly provocative book that challenges technologists to stand up for change, and teaches essential ethical principles and methods for building a fairer future.

Cennydd Bowles is a London-based designer and writer with fifteen years of experience and clients including Twitter, Ford, Cisco, and the BBC. His focus today is the ethics of emerging technology. He has lectured on the topic at Carnegie Mellon University, Google, and New York’s School of Visual Arts, and is a sought-after speaker at technology and design events worldwide.

228 pages, Paperback

Published September 22, 2018

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Cennydd Bowles

3 books25 followers

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5 stars
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91 (39%)
3 stars
24 (10%)
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Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews
Profile Image for Anna Debenham .
4 reviews5 followers
September 24, 2018
Disclosure: I am the author's wife. Future Ethics is thought provoking, opinionated and smart. Do not read this on the train because you will miss several stops. 🙈
Profile Image for Vuk Trifkovic.
512 reviews41 followers
October 7, 2018
Excellent book. Really excellent. I've expected a "Verso" kind of a thing. A bit like Greenfield's one. At first, I was taken aback by the style - a bit down to earth, a bit humble.

After a chapter or two, I figured this is way more effective and way more appropriate for this kind of book. It is well-researched, but not overly erudite. It is clear, but not simplistic. Best of all, it's written from a very specific, design standpoint and contains plenty of specific action points and frameworks to practice.

A very tricky subject. Dealt with superbly. I love it and will try to push it to as many of my colleagues as I can.
46 reviews
November 2, 2018
This book has a great overview of both ethics itself, and of how ethical dilemmas and unethical things exist in what today's tech industry creates. It also looks at what's to come. Great read, concisely written. One point I found less convincing was the discussion of future AI; machines that compose better music than humans, for example, is something that I am personally less optimistic (or pessimistic), we have nothing close to that sort of intelligence. Still, everyone should get and read this book, it is fantastic!
Profile Image for Adam.
Author 1 book5 followers
June 6, 2019
Fantastic. Everyone who works in tech should read it. Twice.

my copy has sticky tabs on almost every second page
Profile Image for Rene Stein.
196 reviews32 followers
September 5, 2021
Zajímavé téma, nejlepší jsou kapitoly o plíživé ztrátě soukromí a vzrůstající moci technologických a státních leviathanů. Nezajímavé byly jen shrnující a nic nového nepřinášející kapitoly o globálním oteplování a tradiční výpady proti kapitalismu. Popperův paradox tolerance si autor vykládá zvláštně, ostatně jako většina novodobých bojovníků proti "extremistickým" názorům. Tak hodnotí jakýkoli názor, který se jim a jejich věrné sociálně-síťové suitě hodnotově spřízněných, ale málokdy autonomně myslících, kámošů zrovna prostě nelíbí.
A navrhované etické komise (resp. profesionální etiky z humanitních fakult) bych v IT firmách fakt viděl nerad, i když mnoho obav s autorem sdílím. Nevěřím tomu, že by profesionální etici nalezli způsob, jak zkrotit budoucnost, AI nebo dokonce ASI. Co se jednou ukáže lidské inteligenci jako možné a dostupné, stane se dříve či později přes všechny deklarace, proklamace a regulace aktuální a reálné. I kdyby nás tyhle naše zhmotněné nápady a vize měly jednou odrovnat. Etika otevřené budoucnosti vznikne z řešení empirických problémů, ne v zacyklených debatách filosofů a v předběžných legislativních opatřeních. Vznikne, když první závan budoucnosti jako lidstvo přežijeme. Naději dává, že se nám to zatim pokaždé podařilo. ;)
A nemohu si pomoci, ale každá kniha o etice, ve které je citován Heidegger, mi přijde podezřelá.
1 review
March 18, 2019
I think my colleagues are fed up hearing about this book, but until they've read it, I'm not going to be shutting up.
As other reviewers have said, Cennydd's down to earth and honest style make this a very readable book about a complex subject. What's particularly valuable, in my view, is that Cennydd presents suggestions and observations that designers could and should start to investigate right now. There's a thread of cautious optimism running through the book, balanced with honesty about the uphill task ahead of us. It's a great book, and thoroughly recommended.
Profile Image for Clàudia.
39 reviews2 followers
August 10, 2020
One of the best book I have read so far with PhD purposes. The author's writing style is compelling and enthralling, and I utterly agree with the review that says the book makes you easily miss the next train stop. Future Ethics tackles essential issues regarding AI ethics for all kinds of audiences since it is not really an "academic" book. Extremely relevant book about current issues in the ethics of technology, and I would strongly recommend it to all technology designers and computer programmers. I enjoyed the read of all the chapters, but I especially delighted reading Chapter 4 The data deluge: tons of relevant knowledge for everyone living in a society where technologies are ubiquitous. I will definitely give it a second read later.
Profile Image for Eystein.
75 reviews2 followers
May 14, 2019
I finished the book about a month ago, but I couldn't not let it go without a review. While it's depressing reading about all the dark patterns and general evil doing done by designers and developers, it helps being aware of it. Sometimes we are under presasure, tired, or stressed, and will agree to do what we know we shouldn't be doing. Having this book under the belt will hopefully help me raise my voice in the next meeting where my gut feeling tells me to.
Profile Image for Thijs Niks.
91 reviews
January 10, 2019
The book is a great primer, focuses explicitly on building (digital) services and products as opposed to ethics in general, and gives a refreshing mix of European and American angles. Even though it describes lots of practical examples, I unfortunately still don’t feel very equipped to put it into practice. This might be one where a followup workshop could be helpful.
Profile Image for Ari R.
13 reviews
January 22, 2023
Future Ethics is a strikingly readable and actionable guide to sustainable software design. Digging wisdom from the shambles of failing empires (Facebook) as well as frighteningly dominant ones (Palantir), the book enables any member of a delivery team to kick product tires to ensure they don’t accidentally build an h-bomb. Its swerves into ivory-tower conjecture and occasionally-tiresome “we must’s” are forgivable in service of its proposed crucial industry mindset shift. Whether you work in management, product, UX, or development, this book’s edicts and thought experiments will serve you (and your end users) throughout the product lifecycle - as long as you’re willing to be “that guy” in meetings.
Profile Image for pythag .
46 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2020
For anyone interested in a broad (albeit slightly shallow) ethical evaluation of our future landscape and the technology that will (and already does) inhabit it, then this book is for you. It's supremely readable. The author is a tech designer himself, not a philosopher, so you won't get bogged down in needlessly technical jargon. That being said, he didn't explore the intricacies of important ethical theories applied to a modern technological context quite to the extent I was hoping for. For some people that's a good thing, though. The foundational insight of this book, the substrate upon which all his more intricate arguments are built, is that technology is NOT morally neutral. And if you think it is, it's because the technologist want you to. Silicon valley wear pretty robust ethical blinders. That's not to say that all technologists are malicious or amoral, rather their fervent desire to innovate and push boundaries blinds them to important ethical considerations. In a culture where growth is kind of moral imperative, and where innovators are looked as trailblazers -- it's no wonder that that many top tech players don't pay much attention to the ethical implications of their endeavors. What's deontology, anyway? Bowles is right to note that most the bad which emanates from the sunny campuses of silicon valley is a product of negligence not malice. However, this DOES not absolve them of moral responsibility. Negligence is arguably more pernicious than clear-cut malice precisely because it's more morally covert and ambiguous.

-- hypermap and umwelt - bats perceive ultrasound; bees see ultraviolet; likewise, there exists a whole world of imperceptible information and data that permeates our world. Just thinking about how to visualize that is an important first step.
-- the importance of data literacy and algorithmic transparency (if you're gonna manipulate us, we'd like to at least know how)
-- how tech / concentrated data ownership could create ossified social classes
-- honest discussion of how the hell to deal with algorithmic bias, especially when it mirrors bias in the human world. Do we accept that bias because it accurately reflects corporeal reality? Or do we aim to create as ideal (and fair) of algorithms as possible?
-- short but good discussion of pros/cons of UBI
-- the myriad slippery slopes that exist when (1) inventing some new tech (2) implementing some new tech. So much that can be used for good can equally be used for evil.
-- The fallacy of inevitability - if I don't do it, someone will, so what's the harm?

There's a lot of like in this book. There's a lot to disagree with and chew on, but that made the book all the better. Do know that a lot of reads like honest advice to fellow designers and tech workers.
Profile Image for Luke.
64 reviews
March 12, 2020
I want to give this book 3.5/5 stars. Alas, Goodreads doesn't let that happen.

Unfortunately, the best messages in this book come in the final chapter on 'A new tech philosophy.' The preceding chapters were information-dense and well-researched but difficult to digest.

My main criticism is that the book is akin to a textbook – it's dry and a challenge to read. Every point is given matter of factly and, while the chapters make sense, they are packed with so much different information that I feel like this is best used as a reference book than one to sit down and read cover to cover.

All that said, this book is essential if you're interested in the topic of ethics in technology. The amount of work Cennydd Bowles has put into it is a huge achievement.
Profile Image for Natalía Papadopoúlou.
88 reviews21 followers
February 2, 2020
First review appearing here is written by the author’s wife recommending not to read this book on a train cause it’s so interesting you’ll simply miss several stops. That happened to me while reading this book quite few times. I can’t say enough, I’m just thankful I am in the position of having built the basic language because of this book to tackle thought experiments when it comes to ethics and knowing the three approaches one could have (utilitarian, deontological, virtue-led) in ethics. Would recommend this to anyone involved in product design / development and anybody interested in technological advances.
Profile Image for James Ingram.
140 reviews4 followers
December 1, 2021
I don't work in tech, and didn't even but this book (the previous owner of my house had left it behind!), but this is one of the best written, and well argued books that I've read for a long time.

- Excellent use of sources
- accessible examples,
- not too heavy on the philosophy (enough to give a sound framework without being dull), and - is expansive in the range of issues it covers without feeling rushed
- it's also laudably practical

Really helped me to think in a better and more considered way about the subjects detailed.

Should be read by a wide audience, and definitely picked up, and marketed by a bigger publisher
Profile Image for Sonja.
13 reviews
May 13, 2022
Quite good summary of the different aspects deserving ethical consideration in tech. Pretty dense read for people not as familiar with the topic maybe. Somewhat shallow for everyone else. He rushes through the biggest ethical frameworks pretty hastily, and jumps quite a bit from one conclusion to the next. I mostly agree with his points, but his ways of getting there leave some major points unconsidered. Also very focused on rational ethics, and no mention of relational moral philosophy, which should deserve a mention for completeness.
Profile Image for Paul Alabama.
4 reviews
November 28, 2020
A must-read for every designer, product manager and software engineer out there! I was blown away by how informative this book is, no fat at all.
Web security, algorithmic bias, surveillance, AI, post-work future and humanity in the middle of it. And most important - this book gives a blueprint on how should we approach development of near future solutions, so we don’t end up in dystopia.
Strong 5/5!
Profile Image for Alexander Debkaliuk.
66 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2019
Book feels like a good conversation with a wise, knowledgeable friend who’ll lay out all the information on the subject of ethics in technology in a way that will empower a motivated, curious, or concerned mind to make better decisions at work. To think broader and look further into the future consequences of what we design and engineer today.
Profile Image for Carly.
23 reviews46 followers
February 2, 2020
A super saturated read. Definitely recommend for anyone looking to get a better grasp of the ethical questions at play for those designing and building (and governing?) technologies. Cennydd breaks down contrasting viewpoints and their related philosophies, sprinkling tools and references along the way.
Profile Image for Raphaelle.
10 reviews3 followers
February 7, 2021
Good introduction to all ethical problems linked to new techs (privacy, transparency, biases, environmental impact and future of work + role of dev and designer teams in the development of new solutions) - Ethics is a muscle, a lens, more than a list of pre-made principles to follow as a checklist.
17 reviews5 followers
February 2, 2023
couldn't get past the first couple chapters. if you haven't ever read anything about how Big Tech is Bad™️ this might be a good book for you but I felt like it was light on novel content and relatively high on BS.
Profile Image for Frederic Jacobs.
7 reviews1 follower
July 14, 2019
A book like Future Ethics should be a mandatory reading for anyone studying or working in the tech industry.
Profile Image for David Link.
39 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2020
How developers of software program have ethnical dilemmas to consider when writing today's software.
Profile Image for Jan D.
134 reviews10 followers
January 28, 2021
Very helpful. No easy answers, but plenty of good ideas.
10 reviews1 follower
May 3, 2022
There are some interesting thoughts to start with, but lots of arguments are still based on dystopia framing, and the implementation doesn't seem to be practical for the current society.
November 11, 2018
A must buy book and I feel like this book is a must for upcoming designers. The main focus of the book is to look at ethics with a modern mind set. So much is going on in the tech world and not everything is positive for us humans.

Based on the book I gave a presentation at work and the reactions were super positive. Your mindset will change reading this book and I feel like you will become a better designer because of it.

Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews

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