The ethics of digital technology in the food

Imagine a world where smart supermarket ready-to-eat packaging provides real-time carbon footprint information, live alerts for product recalls, and instant safety alerts when allergens are unexpectedly discovered in the factory.

But how much additional energy would be used to run such a system? What if an accidental alarm means you should throw away your food for no reason?

These are some of the questions asked by a team of researchers, including a Lancaster University lecturer on Design Policy and Futures Thinking, who are studying the ethical implications of using artificial intelligence in the food sector by creating objects from an “intelligent” imaginary new world.

Your article, Taking into account the ethical implications of digital collaboration in the food sector, is published today in the November issue of the Data Science Solutions journal ‘Patterns’.

Food production is the largest sector in the UK manufacturing industry. Complex processes and systems of food production and distribution, in which millions of people and organizations are involved, produce huge amounts of data every day.

However, to fully take advantage of the opportunities, the article states, it is necessary to work together securely, sharing and accessing a variety of data sources across the food sector. Sharing data and using it more effectively, for example with AI and other new technological innovations, can potentially reduce waste, increase sustainability and protect health.

Meeting this need requires a trustworthy mechanism that enables the various parties along the supply chain to help each party make informed decisions about the credibility of each data source. However, companies can be careful when it comes to disclosing commercially sensitive data. As a result, new systems are being developed that can be relied on to protect privacy while allowing wider use of the data collected.

The article warns that new technologies can also bring ethical problems and unexpected, harmful consequences with them.

“To create such data collaboration, both cutting-edge technology and surrounding social, institutional and political elements would need to be integrated to ensure that the system works equally well and fairly for all parties,” the article adds.

“For example, if AI is to be implemented, we need to address well-known ethical challenges in this area, such as bias and accountability, in order to create systems that are accountable for their implementation and prioritize human well-being.”

The project brought together people with different levels of expertise and used a method called “design fiction” to examine the ethical implications of sharing data on food and assess technologies that do not yet exist.

The main author Dr. Naomi Jacobs of the Imagination Laboratory at Lancaster University said, “Instead of asking general questions about what could go wrong or having to wait for something to be fully built – when it is probably too late to do things without great expense or to start with change again – we imagined what the world could look like if there were already ‘data trusts’ (to protect private data and at the same time for use by others). “

As part of a larger project launched by the Internet of Food Things Network + (led by the University of Lincoln) to study data trusts related to the food sector, the research team created objects that acted as “props” from this fictional Welt acted as a ‘documentary’ about a supermarket recall and the real-time packaging of ready meals in the supermarket. These props were used with a set of cards designed to enable engaging with the ethics of technology, called the Moral IT deck. Based on this, they worked with food and technology experts to assess the potential ethical benefits, risks, and challenges that they presented.

“Through this process we got to know important topics,” added Dr. Jacobs added. “For example, it is important to consider where the power lies in these systems, how large businesses, small businesses and individual consumers could be positively or negatively impacted, and how various ethical issues such as sustainability and wellbeing, privacy and transparency may need to be balanced be. These must be taken into account in the future development of such data trusts. “

The article presents an approach with which the ethical implications of technological progress can be taken into account, especially here in the context of digital collaboration in the food sector and with a special focus on the use of AI in shared data management and use and the importance of responsible innovations .

The project was funded by the Internet of Food Things Network + and AI for Scientific Discovery Network +. The co-authors included: Imagination Lancaster, LICA, Lancaster University; The Lincoln Institute of Agri Food Technology, University of Lincoln; Future Food Beacon of Excellence and School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham; School of Chemistry, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Southampton; School of Business and Management, Royal Holloway University of London and Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester.

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