Welcome to the Data Ethics research group
Data is important. When data is accurate, it expresses truths about the world and the creatures in it. Truth is valuable, both intrinsically and instrumentally. From a Christian standpoint, truth in the created order reflects God who is Truth Itself. And since persons are beings with dignity—beings in the image and likeness of God—accurate data has special value.
Where there is goodness and value, there is also the possibility of the risk of not doing justice to that goodness. Such is the case now that digital data has become the world’s most valuable commodity. New technologies enable collecting, processing and utilizing data in ways previously unheard of. The new capabilities combine with a nearly universal tendency to imagine others (human and non-human) in terms of commodifiable use where we instrumentalize data (about the world and about one another) toward ends that often have little to do with common goods. The transition to data commodification follows age-old patterns of commodifying bodies, capacities, identities, etc. with digital data simply the latest instance of a general pattern. How then should one think about the relationship between data as valuable truth and data as instrumentalized commodity? This is a complex theoretical question (that comes with extensive philosophical, theological and ethical literatures) situated in and informed and inspired by the many, often intimate, realities (use of cellphones, involvement with social media, digitization of medical records, collection of student data, monitoring of smart devices, completion of surveys and applications, datamining and capitalization, etc.) that comprise lives that must now be “always on.”
This initial question leads to others related to the status of human persons, what they can know and what can be known about them and the obligations knowing and known persons have in relationship to data, again questions with developed literatures and piqued by and integrated within practical concerns. Finally comes a set of questions about the relationship between persons and communities, and about the porous boundaries that facilitate individual and common life (e.g., How does one relate individual privacy to corporate responsibility?) and all those familiar challenges around difference and identity that now needs to be thought and lived through data-driven societies.
The Data Ethics research group investigates these and other questions through the development of transdisciplinary research and curriculum and hosting a range of programming and scholars from across the university.