Status:

The project continues in DDC and I am still collaborating with my Japanese contacts on new similar projects.

Actors:

DDC, Laere, NEC and other Japanese companies

Time period:

2020-2023

Other:

Ethical digitalization in Japan

A few days ago, I received a book from Japan. Although knowing I may never understand a single word in it, just holding it brings me so much joy. Because accompanying the book was a letter from none other than Dr. Hitoshi Imaoka, thanking me humbly for my assistance in realizing this book on Digital Ethics.

The questions surrounding digital ethics must be integrated into the companies where technologies are being developed.

You might think, “another researcher, another technology-critical book.” But this book and this researcher are different. Dr. Hitoshi Imaoka is the wizard behind the development of facial recognition technology for one of the world’s leading technology firms, NEC. NEC supplies industries worldwide with technological solutions, from security systems to smart city solutions, yes, even the projector hanging in your meeting room. Therefore, it is of great importance that they have chosen to focus on ensuring their technology is not only functional and appealing but also ethically responsible.

NEC headquarters in Tokyo

NEC’s impressive headquarters in Tokyo

The collaboration with NEC arose as part of the Danish Design Center’s (DDC) mission to focus on and create design tools that can guide developers in creating more ethical digital products. I played only a modest role in the development of the Digital Ethics Compass, the crown jewel in DDC’s toolbox for digital ethics, but through my close association with the Japanese-Danish consultancy Laere, we managed to establish a longstanding partnership with several Japanese companies.

NEC showed early interest in our approaches, and we received several delegations from them here in Denmark. I facilitated workshops where we presented them with future thinking and design-based ethical digitalization. We even organized an ‘ethical digitalization tour’ to Tokyo in early 2023, where, in addition to presentations and keynotes, we held workshops in which employees, including Dr. Hitoshi Imaoka, were introduced to and worked with the Digital Ethics Compass. The workshop formats I conducted there have since formed the basis for training programs for NEC employees.

Later that same year, Dr. Hitoshi Imaoka and a high-profile delegation visited Denmark again to research for the book I have just received. The book explores Danish examples of ethical design as well as Danish design and digital agencies that have distinguished themselves by prioritizing ethics in their work.

A group of japanese people workshopping - digital ethic compass

Digital ethics workshop at NEC

Design – and perhaps especially the Danish design tradition – can foster international collaboration on digital ethics.

I am proud to have contributed to the dissemination of the Danish tradition of high ethical standards in technology. This standard stems from our design tradition, where we have built our society on the principle that human beings are at the center of our collective decisions, guidelines, and rules – even when it comes to technology.

In a time when artificial intelligence and other technologies are truly testing our personal, national, and international ethical compasses, cross-border cooperation, inspiration, and exchange are crucial. It means a lot to me to contribute to the dissemination and accessibility of methods to challenge the way we exist in the world, especially as major technology companies today provide solutions whose consequences we do not yet fully understand. The big question always remains: Just because we can, does it mean we should?

Still a lot to learn in Japan

I continue my collaboration with my esteemed Japanese colleagues, including those from Laere, and look forward to continuing to inspire and be inspired by a country and a nation that, despite cultural differences, surprisingly aligns well with the Danish and Scandinavian approach to life.

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