Francisco González, Chairman and CEO of BBVA, said that technological progress and globalization are driving the world towards “changes that call into question many of our convictions and the ways we think and behave”.
This generates uncertainties and conflicts that have been exacerbated by an economic and financial crisis “that has highlighted management ethical deficiencies at multiple companies and institutions around the world, among other shortcomings intrinsic to the global system”.
However, BBVA’s chief executive said that he also believes that the crisis could also mark “the turning point in articulating a more efficient and productive economic and financial system that is also more stable and fairer. We need shared ethics and values to overcome the major global challenges”.
González made the comments late Monday in the company of José Ignacio Wert, Spain’s Minister for Education, Culture and Sports, at the presentation of Values and Ethics for the 21st Century, a book that brings together the thoughts of some 20 specialists from different fields of learning about how we should approach and leverage universal ethics principles to tackle the major challenges thrown up by the 21st century.
González went on to stress BBVA’s commitment to “building a business endeavor underpinned by firm ethical principles, based on the conviction that good ethics are not only an ideal but also a profitable strategy”.
In addition to BBVA’s Chairman and CEO and Spain’s Minister for Education, Culture and Sports, three of the book’s authors and members of the OpenMind community also took part in the event: Sandip Tiwari, Professor in Engineering at Cornell University (US), Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University (US), and Andy Miah, Chair in Ethics and Emerging Technologies at University of West Scotland (UK).
In his speech, Sandip Tiwari dealt with the social benefits and challenges posed by the latest developments in his field of work, nanotechnology. Tiwari believes that one of the biggest issues facing today’s society is the fact that “societies are unable to keep apace with scientific progress so that they often adopt new technologies without being familiar the risks they entail”. By way of example, Tiwari cites the development of machines capable of generating and running algorithms with the potential to trigger a financial crisis or the production of nano-structured batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles that use ‘dirty carbon’. Prevention of these consequences is very challenging and can only be achieved by means of “bottom-up ethical thinking”: driven by families and the education system.
Sociologist Saskia Sassen focused on the challenges raised by accelerated urban growth. Sassen warns that cities are losing their capacity to triage conflict through commerce and civic activity, becoming sites for a whole range of new types of conflicts. In her opinion, the so-called ‘smart cities’, replete with large enclosed facilities supervised by private companies, weaken the civic sense because they leave civic duties and policies in the hands of technology systems that are under private control. We need to ‘urbanize’ the technology.
Andy Miah specializes is the study of the relationship between ethics and emerging technologies. His speech covered the ethical issues that arise as a result of human enhancement. His thesis is that humanity is entering an era of ‘transhuman’ enhancements in which we will be able to manipulate biology at will. This ‘transhumanization’ spans modification of our brains to boost memory or cognitive ability to altering our biology in order to make us more resistant to our surroundings, lengthen our lifespan or develop new capabilities. Society is not ready, in his opinion, to tackle the ethical implications of this situation which affects every aspect of human life.
The idea underpinning Values and Ethics for the 21st Century is to offer points of view, arguments and ideas that spark private contemplation and collective debate in plain language that steers clear of dogmatism. To this end, the vision presented by philosophers and ethics theorists is offset by the perspectives of scientists and economic and business management experts.