The SHERPA project presented a paper at the IEEE Smart World Conference in August 2019. Comparing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the findings of the SHERPA project’s own case studies, the project found that the use of smart information systems (SIS – the combination of AI and Big Data) offers great potential for meeting many of the UN’s SDGs. However, these SIS also raise a number of ethical challenges. Focusing on six of the case studies, the paper examined potential ethical issues relating to the use of SIS in meeting the challenges in six of the SDGs (2, 3, 7, 8, 11, and 12). The paper demonstrated that simple “technofixes”, such as using SIS as the sole response to the concerns raised by the various SDGs, is not sufficient and may even exacerbate or create new issues for the development community.
A careful and measured response to the demands of the SDGs through the use of SIS is therefore advisable. What may seem too good to be true, probably is! The urge to do good and contribute to society’s needs in the form of the SDGs is a valuable motivation, but dangers can emerge, as the paper demonstrates. This is especially true when we attempt to respond with “off-the-shelf” solutions that do not take into consideration (for example) local concerns, the potential for bias, or the capacity of multinationals to leverage considerable data access to further entrench their power over smaller businesses.