A visual tool for assessing ethical risks

Ethical issues with software released to the public are so widespread that some researchers have coined the term ethical debt to represent the unpaid cost of the negative impacts for individuals, societies and our environment.

A key to reduce ethical debt is to systematically assess ethical risks at all stages of the design and development process. However, previous research shows that it is particularly difficult for novice engineers to identify risks, to determine priorities and to design mitigation measures.

We have designed a visual tool called the “Digital Ethics Canvas” that guides students in assessing  ethical risks with 6 “ethical lenses” specific to the digital domain: beneficence, non-maleficence, privacy, fairness, sustainability and empowerment.

The Digital Ethics Canvas (2023)

The canvas includes questions to help students surface elements in a digital solution that are likely to give rise to risks. Mitigation options can also be contributed. Overall, the canvas implements a benefit-risk analysis which is adapted to approach ethical dilemmas.

Below we present different applications of our digital ethics canvas and share resources that you can reuse in your own context

Ethical risks with Generative AI

We have used the canvas to analyze the ethical risks posed by Generative AI (tools such as ChatGPT for instance) used in educational contexts. In our Ethics of Generative AI for Education” workshop, we contrast the inflated expectations and hype with the real benefits and real risks of these types of tools and guide teachers to do their own risk analysis on a choice of scenarios.

Accompanying handout to print.

Ethical risks with educational tools

Beyond AI, the canvas can also be used to analyze ethical issues with all types of software. We facilitate a workshop A canvas for the ethical design of learning experiences with digital tools(EN) / Conception éthique d’expériences numériques d’apprentissage (FR) with teachers and have them look at software frequently used in classrooms such as polling software or online collaborative whiteboards.

Supporting documents (summary of privacy policies, examples) in English / in French.