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The Ethical Balance of Using Smart Information Systems for Promoting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

Ryan, Mark; Antoniou, Josephina; Brooks, Laurence; Jiya, Tilimbe; Macnish, Kevin; Stahl, Bernd


Mark Ryan

Josephina Antoniou

Laurence Brooks

Tilimbe Jiya

Kevin Macnish


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are internationally agreed goals that allow us to determine what humanity, as represented by 193 member states, finds acceptable and desirable. The paper explores how technology can be used to address the SDGs and in particular Smart Information Systems (SIS). SIS, the technologies that build on big data analytics, typically facilitated by AI techniques such as machine learning, are expected to grow in importance and impact. Some of these impacts are likely to be beneficial, notably the growth in efficiency and profits, which will contribute to societal wellbeing. At the same time, there are significant ethical concerns about the consequences of algorithmic biases, job loss, power asymmetries and surveillance, as a result of SIS use. SIS have the potential to exacerbate inequality and further entrench the market dominance of big tech companies, if left uncontrolled. Measuring the impact of SIS on SDGs thus provides a way of assessing whether an SIS or an application of such a technology is acceptable in terms of balancing foreseeable benefits and harms. One possible approach is to use the SDGs as guidelines to determine the ethical nature of SIS implementation. While the idea of using SDGs as a yardstick to measure the acceptability of emerging technologies is conceptually strong, there should be empirical evidence to support such approaches. The paper describes the findings of a set of 6 case studies of SIS across a broad range of application areas, such as smart cities, agriculture, finance, insurance and logistics, explicitly focusing on ethical issues that SIS commonly raise and empirical insights from organisations using these technologies.


Ryan, M., Antoniou, J., Brooks, L., Jiya, T., Macnish, K., & Stahl, B. (2020). The Ethical Balance of Using Smart Information Systems for Promoting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability, 12(12), Article 4826.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 11, 2020
Online Publication Date Jun 12, 2020
Publication Date Jun 12, 2020
Deposit Date Jan 1, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 4, 2023
Journal Sustainability
Print ISSN 2071-1050
Electronic ISSN 2071-1050
Publisher MDPI
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 12
Article Number 4826
Keywords Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law; Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment; Geography, Planning and Development
Public URL
Publisher URL


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