Luciano Floridi says “data success requires ethics”

The philosopher of the digital community has precise ideas: every company, he says, must have a culture of the datum that goes to grasp the centric human aspects, be altruistic in an smart way. The winners are those who have understood that most of the added value is intangible: know-how, reputation, workforce

02 Dec 2019

The data in companies’ hands is not an oil field to be exploited for their own benefit, but an opportunity to offer better customer service or to maintain the loyalty of their employees. 

 “Data must be used by companies in a selfless way, since ethics is good for the economy,” said Luciano Floridi, philosopher and leading expert in digital ethics, in an exclusive interview with EconomyUp focused on Human Data Science.

What Human Data Science is 

Human Data Science means a cross-matter model to offer a new key to approach big data, focusing on people to understand their needs and how to meet them. Every day people produce countless amounts of data: we are talking about 2.5 x 1018 Terabytes, and the trend is set to increase exponentially. How to interpret and value them? Help comes from technology through big data and Artificial Intelligence, but new models are coming into play to manage this precious heritage in the most appropriate way. Models that, precisely, must be able to understand people’s needs through data modeling using a human-centric approach. 

Luciano Floridi, Full Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at Oxford University, Director of the Digital Ethics Lab and Chairman of the Data Ethics Group of the Alan Turing Institute, shares this thesis. “By now,” he says, “any company must have a data culture that captures the human-centered and customer-oriented aspects. 

“The data is NOT the new oil.” 

Data is said to be the new oil – said Floridi – but I don’t think so. It’s a bad idea for a company to consider data as an oil field. According to me, today business doesn’t do it enough and it’s a huge missed opportunity“. 

“Companies must be more selfless 

So what should companies do to exploit the opportunities offered by data? “To be selfless in an smart way. The winners are those who have understood that most of the added value is intangible: know-how, reputation, workforce”. 

Human Data Science and Insurance 

Floridi then goes on to list some concrete examples of how Human Data Science can be applied in different market sectors. For example, in insurance. “ I imagine an insurance policy that, in exchange for the data, offers customers a free prevention service or support service, for example when the user is stuck with the car in the middle of the countryside. Thanks to the availability and management of the data, the insurance company knows that the customer is stationary at that point, so it can automatically contact him and ask him if everything is okay. If that company has control of the car and realizes it’s malfunctioning, it could get the tow truck in place. The client would be infinitely grateful.” 

Human Data Science and Banking 

There can also be many applications of Human Data Science in banking. There are just as many examples. The philosopher originally from Rome and transplanted to Oxford came up with one: “ A bank that won’t let me fill out any forms since it already knows all my details“. 

Human Data Science for corporate welfare 

“If in a 4.0 factory – the teacher hypothesizes – the sensors realize that, in the use of some machinery by a worker, there is something wrong, the company should use this data for prevention, care and support of the person, not to fire him/her. Or imagine another employee taking a lot of absences. Given the big dates available to companies today, absenteeism is immediately detected. The next step should be to ask why the person in question is taking so many absences and whether the company can help them. In short, a human-centric and altruistic use of data is necessary”. 

Technology is not neutral: it should be used for the benefit of customers and the workforce, not just companies

In conclusion, summarizes Floridi, it is not true, as some say, that technology in itself is neither good nor bad, but it depends on how it is used. “Technology is like a knife: you can’t say it cuts or doesn’t cut depending on how it’s used, a knife always cuts. Let’s say rather that it’s a double-edged knife, which means it has double value. The demand that must come from the world of work, and also from that part of the union that is more cooperative, must be: let’s make sure that at least this knife cuts on both sides. That is, whether the bivalence of technology is either in favour of the workforce, or even in favour of the workforce. It cannot and must not be solely in favour of the company’s production’. 

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