For me, the largest ethical issue that is most concerning is data availability and privacy. With the increase in machine learning and AI to delve into datasets and generate new insight, there is an immense amount of new opportunities available to customize products and services to be tailored directly to individuals. These activities could save consumers and businesses time and effort searching for products or clients. These new insights could also generate new demand and new markets for things people didn’t know existed by connecting businesses to consumers as well. These improvements could help spur economic development while providing more opportunities for future growth.
However, these connections and insights derived from personal information have a variety of threats as well. Personal privacy is easily invaded if the companies that provide critical services to the population are using the data unethically and without individual consent. There is also an issue of social equity that arises when data could be used to systematically block certain groups from access to services or products. Similar to what we see at Wal-Mart, not only does using the most cost effective solutions save money, but it also ends up reducing choice by limiting the amount of niche or experimental products that may not be purchased as much but could be important for some. Reduction in choice can lead to a monoculture style supply chain that can easily be disrupted by unforeseen events.
Overall, I am more optimistic about the opportunities that will come from advanced analytics and machine learning than I am pessimistic about the negative threats from those projects. However, I do feel it is important for society to start implementing frameworks to prevent abuse and unethical data practices to ensure that we gain more value from increased analytics in society than harm.