Visionary of globally valid digital ethics for a just digital society – Who is Cordula Meckenstock?

Ethical values, integrity, justice and their enforcement are her central concerns. After an Erasmus semester in Rome, Cordula Meckenstock completed her law studies in Münster in 2005. This degree leads her with honors via the Master of Laws in International Legal Studies at the renowned Georgetown Law School in Washington DC to a doctorate at the University of Leipzig. She has also been an honorary professor there since 2019.

She began volunteering for Amnesty International as a young girl in 1995. Since 2012, she has been involved as an election observer on OSCE missions. In addition, she passed on her experience as a mentor to Syrian refugees in the city of Hamburg for two years.

In the meantime, Cordula Meckenstock can look back on 11 years of international experience in globally operating companies. She speaks five languages. Her areas of practice range from international law to compliance, risk management, sustainability and personal data protection issues. In her spare time, she enjoys the magnificent lightness of our planet from the air. She is a passionate private pilot.

Ethical values create real value

“With my work, companies become more valuable. It’s about ethical business conduct and social legitimacy. Only companies that consciously move above the minimum legal standard and formulate their own standards are valuable companies in the medium and long term. This includes, for example, a clear commitment to responsibility for their own ethically sustainable supply chain, to fair and legitimate marketing methods, and to a consumption of resources geared to sustainability. Only companies that have especially clear concepts in these areas and can be measured against them will be perceived as truly value-creating and thus also as valuable market participants.”

It’s all about responsibility

For the humanist, the concept of responsibility reflects not only our sociopolitical future, but also our interpersonal future. By what moral standards do we define ourselves as enlightened individuals in the digital future of networking? With regard to new digital phenomena and activities, for algorithms, machine learning and Big Data analytics, according to Prof. Dr. Cordula Meckenstock, there is no need to develop new ethical principles, but merely to transfer and adapt the existing ones to the digital context of democratic societies.

These are the legal concepts developed worldwide over centuries, which were formulated as inalienable human and civil rights in the Age of Enlightenment in the American Bill of Rights and in the Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme. Today, they are the guiding principles of the European Convention and the United Nations Charter: the right to liberty, property, security, resistance to oppression, and equality before the law.

Digital ethics

Digital ethics describes how people live and coexist in the morally right way connected to the new digital technologies on the foundations of the rule of law. In particular, rules and laws will be designed for real conflict situations that may arise from AI-driven processes. The focus is on questions of civil liberties, such as the protection of privacy, and humanitarian values, such as solidarity and justice. This also includes the question of responsible action and responsible decision-making. Companies should address these issues as early as the conception phase of business models, products and services. After all, the acceptance and thus also the success of new offerings based on artificial intelligence, for example, will depend on whether there are clear answers as to who analyzes which data streams for which purposes, how decisions based on them are prepared and made, and whether responsibilities for “errors in the system” are clearly defined.

Four ethical principles of artificial intelligence

As guidelines, the EU Commission lists the following principals as the basis for programming algorithms: Respect for human autonomy, harm avoidance, justice and explainability. The application of these principles decides in the respective conflict situations about legitimacy and reputation, trust and motivation of the involved parties. Therefore, according to Prof. Dr. Cordula Meckenstock, they cannot be valued highly enough.

The human being in the center

Only humans can ultimately decide and take responsibility for their actions. This also applies to a digital society of enlightened and self-determined citizens. “That is why I would like the European Union as a whole, as well as Europeans as individuals, to take a pioneering role in creating such a framework for digitization, in which Europe’s fundamental freedoms, basic values and ethical principles are preserved, as well as creating a geopolitical advantage for Europe in this sense. Ultimately, the whole thing will only be successful if companies also recognize how important and valuable it is for society, and thus also for themselves, to move within such a framework of security, clarity and human dignity.”

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