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Beyond Privacy: Embedding Human Values in Technology

How to put human values into voice assistants and to make the digital infrastructure more human centric. Those were two of more topics at the German DLD conference – first time in Brussels – in September. Do watch the videos. They are worth it.

Try and compare the answers from a Russian and a US voice assistant to the question: Oh, I am so sad today. The US voice assistant (Alexa) will say; If I had arms, I would hug you. The Russian (Yandex) will say; Nobody said that life is a picnic.

This example was used by Sarah Spiekermann, professor from Vienna University of Economich and Business who has working with privacy for nearly two decades:

“But we are not talking only about privacy here. Whenever technology enters into our lives there are a lot of values beyond privacy, transparency and security that play a role. Just in that little example think about consolation, friendships, closeness,  community, mental health, joy in live, discipline, strength and identity, feeling safe, independence, locality, heterogeneity and knowledge,” said Sarah Spiekermann, keynote at DLD Europe in Brussels September 9th 2019.

She also pointed to the Chinese voice assistants that many of us in Europe will use. There are huge value differences and also risk of massive manipulations.

The solution according to Spiekermann is following:

“We as human being have a strong access to the value world, and what we can do is that in our innovation project we can replace design thinking with ethical design thinking. We can help developers with value envisaging procedures and make them see in advance what will be created with their technology.”

“We must bring the values into the engineering effort. These voices assistants will then be able to console people without making them addicted. Cheer them up and tell them to see their friends. Human values can be built into technology,” she said.

Another speaker was Pernille Tranberg from She pointed to the fact that bots always must declare they are machines and never pretend otherwise. But in her discussion about digital platforms it was more about how to democratize the digital world. According to Pernille Tranberg, individual data control must be a core value in the European digital infrastructure.

“Just like we control our own money more or less, we must control our own data. It should neither be controlled by the state like in China nor by big tech like in the US. In a data democracy humans control their own data – their own lives,” she said.

The Sarah Spiekermann video is here

The digital platform discussion is here

All the DLD Europe videos here