Innovation goes hand-in-hand with high standards and responsibility. Anticipating tomorrow’s needs and responding to future difficulties while giving the new technologies that will be with us in our everyday lives an ethical dimension – this is a new challenge to be met in this turbulent 21st century, to which restoring meaning is an urgent priority…

Science without conscience is only ruin of the soul

Rabelais, a visionary thinker and pioneer, was already challenging us in the 16th century about a dimension that generally resurfaces in times of crisis, when we return to essential, fundamental values: ethics and meaning.
Reconciling scientific ability with moral acceptability is a challenge now being thrown down by citizens, who want a world that is more respectful of their rights and their data, but also by companies for which this ethical dimension is a strong element of their DNA. Looking beyond economic profitability, these committed entrepreneurs with strong convictions are above all visionaries, like Walt Disney, who dreamed of spreading happiness across the world, or the laboratory Merck, whose empire was founded with the aim of preserving and improving human life…

Ethical by design

Innovation requires a vision of the future and faith in humanity. To think about the behaviour to adopt in order to make the world habitable humanely, which is the very definition of ethics, it is essential to be able to imagine the future and take a 360° view of the society around us.
“If you want your organisation to be aligned with the expectations of today’s society, I am convinced that ethics is a fundamental USP for any innovative company,” emphasises Pierre Oger, EGERIE’s CEO.
But this is not something that can be imposed. “It is a value that drives you and carries you forward from the beginning of your entrepreneurial adventure. It is a profound conviction that gives rise to major innovations. Combining innovation with ethics also means opening up to the creativity, risk-taking, collective intelligence and respect for essential values that will make your innovation a success and generate confidence. Companies that have incorporated this notion of ‘ethical by design’ by conviction rather than necessity ensure their own sustainability,” adds Pierre Oger.

Users’ aspirations

In crisis situations like the one we are experiencing at the moment, every one of us, as a citizen, an employee or just a human being, has to review their understanding of ethics. And digital technology, with its open networks, poses challenges, as does the protection of data, particularly personal or confidential data.
“Expectations have begun to change in terms of respect for fundamental values, and the debates that have driven the news in recent months, such as digital identity, tracking, facial recognition and artificial intelligence, are examples of this.”

In this context, the introduction of the GDPR has not only made Europe a pioneer of these protective values; it has also opened a path to human considerations that go beyond the technological aspects. “Of course digital technology is now disrupting our system of values, and sadly ethics is more often invoked as an advertising slogan, a kind of self-awarded label of ‘responsibility’. That’s not how we see ethics at EGERIE. We hold it high as a fundamental value, and we apply it both in the design of our solutions and in our actions.” He adds, “To encourage its adoption, ethics must be central to these innovations. It will be a measure of our collective success.”

Ethics, a safe haven?

Contemporary society imposes a frantic pace on us, a constant race for innovation, profit, and profitability. Can ethics really act as an antidote to maximizing profit at all costs ? « It’s a real question. This company we have the choice to undergo it or to drive and influence it towards new models » comments Pierre Oger. By placing values and ethics at the heart of the vital concerns and issues of our 21st century and, « By making them indicators of key values such as the ones we use today, turnover and profit – ethics may well become the indicator of a safe haven in which one decides to invest » he adds.

The human factor, a source of meaning?

Technologies are not meaningful in themselves, but the humans who imagine, invent, develop and use them are. “It is humans that give meaning to these technological innovations. This is a great responsibility we carry,” emphasises Pierre Oger, adding: “At EGERIE, ethics is a value that has driven us since the beginning. We have incorporated it into both the delivery of our services to our users and the company’s very philosophy. We apply it both externally and internally, beginning with the recruitment process and our everyday team management. By sharing these values, we send a strong message to the whole community. This concept of sharing is the basis for our whole model. It is an innovative and profoundly human adventure as much as an economic success.” Ethical education and training are another challenge of our time. Some states, such as Canada, are already responding with cyber and digital courses that dedicate a major component to ethics. “This dimension is vital for the future. In terms of digital tech and cyber training, France is still a little behind, though we are seeing a number of syllabuses being widely adopted, some incorporating this concept of ethics. But we have to go further, because today’s young generation includes tomorrow’s leaders, and their decisions will have to be guided by ethics.”

Europe, the decisive arena

Europe has real strength of innovation and strong ethical values. In theory, these strengths give it weight on the global digital scene. But to make this a reality, Europe needs economic power on a sufficient scale. Given the steps being taken to address the pandemic, when European finance ministers have jointly adopted a €540 billion recovery plan, would they be able to take the same initiative for digital, and digital security, whose importance is multiplied in these devastating times? “In this fight for a more secure cyberspace, it is urgent to think collaboratively with a strong European dimension. Our sovereignty, both digital and economic, depends on it,” says Pierre Oger.
This observation is shared by a collective of French digital decision-makers, who are calling on the government to prioritise sovereignty in order to support the digital transformation and Industry 4.0, which will be even more urgent after the Covid-19 crisis. “There are European, and often French, alternatives to all these American digital services. We are calling for a positive surge of effort to make this crisis and the reconstruction that will follow an opportunity to reclaim our digital sovereignty before it is too late,” signs the collective.
And Cedric O, the junior minister for the digital economy, has called on the government from the floor of the National Assembly to “continue to support the emergence of technology champions. Our daily dependence on American digital tools, made even more obvious by the crisis, is a concern for French sovereignty. This endorses the government’s long-standing ambition to support the emergence of French champions. We must accelerate further.” Let’s hope the burst of national cohesion generated by the crisis is followed by real action…

Towards a digital and cyber ethics committee?

According to Pierre Oger, we need to invent new methods of public consultation, bringing together researchers and the educational world but also philosophers, anthropologists, writers, directors of institutions and politicians, to work collectively on developing ethical responsibility for the digital and cyber world. A space for thinking and consultation that could take the form of an ethics committee chaired by a digital ministry… that doesn’t yet exist. This underlines a call from the whole community, launched by National Assembly member Eric Bothorel in an information report on the future of European cybersecurity published last November: “The creation of a fully-functioning ministry would provide a real political focus for cybersecurity issues, representing both security and industrial aspects. This focus is essential if France wants to follow up its words and its ambitious statements with concrete action.”

The pandemic sweeping the world in 2020 shows us that we need to consider our actions as a whole and give greater meaning to our projects and actions, and thus our innovations, taking risks and showing good judgement. “Profound, sustainable and ethical innovations will emerge from this period of uncertainty,” concludes Pierre Oger.