This year\u2019s spotlight on generative AI has been one of several factors increasingly placing corporate ethics in the crosshairs.\n\nImportant today, ethics will soon become foundational and existential for business. Five years from now an organization\u2019s ability to recruit and retain top talent and design and sell profitable goods and services will depend on how it is perceived ethically.\n\nHeadlines are full of claims (and counter claims) regarding ethical lapses in the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. This scrutiny of the intersection of moral principles and action is spreading to nearly every facet of society, begging the question: What should we be doing to make sure IT\u2019s ethical house is in order?\n\nEthics are \u2014 note the use of the plural here \u2014 among those disciplines that are much discussed but poorly understood. Juan Enr\u00edquez, author of Homo Evolutis: Please Meet the Next Human Species, began his remarks, \u201cEthics in the Age of Technology\u201d lamenting that on the first day of work, many knowledge workers are presented with a giant book \u2014 The Ethics Manual \u2014which declaims in excruciatingly boring prose, \u201cWhat is right and what is wrong.\u201d The net effect of this practice is to send the erroneous signal to new employees that ethical responsibility starts and ends with compliance with pre-existing, created-by-others rule sets. Nothing could be further from the truth.\n\nThe what and why of ethics in IT\n\nThe ritualistic delivery of The Ethics Manual to employees,ludicrous as it might seem, raises a couple of interesting questions. First, who writes the manual and whom is responsible for monitoring ethics in the enterprise? Second, is there an expanded version of The Ethics Manual for IT professionals?\n\nThe scholarship of Dennis F. Thompson, founding director of the University Center for Ethics and the Professions at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, reveals that we need to be aware of at least three distinctly different forms of ethics.\n\nThere are personal ethics, frequently referred to by ethics professors as \u201csandbox values\u201d or \u201cSunday school ethics\u201d; professional ethics, the codes of conduct specified by various disciplines (e.g., lawyers, accountants, doctors, financial advisors, engineers); and institutional ethics, which constitute normative behaviors of an organization or department. Of increasing importance are something known as \u201ccohort ethics\u201d \u2014 the assumption that your ethics are the sum of the value sets of your five closest friends.\n\nSpecial Professor of Law Janis Meyer, who teaches \u201cLegal Ethics\u201d at The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University and \u201cProfessional Responsibility\u201d at Columbia University School of Law, recently spoke at the virtual \u201cResponsibility of Information Management\u201d Digital Solutions Gallery at The Ohio State University. (Her remarks start at the 30:15 mark.) There, Meyer explained that there can be a difference between \u201cprofessional ethics,\u201d as specified for lawyers in state and federal law, and morals, aka personal beliefs and values.\n\nMeyer asked, \u201cDoes IT have unambiguously articulated professional ethics?\u201d This is something our profession needs to work on. In the soon-to-be-published The Day Before IT Transformation: Unlocking Digital Transformation for Business Leaders, Cheryl Smith, former CIO at McKesson, West Jet, and Keyspan, argues that without industry- and discipline-accepted \u201cTechnology Leadership Practices\u201d it is essentially impossible to articulate professional ethics for IT.\n\nEthics are much bigger than a set of simple rules \u2014 for example, \u201cDon\u2019t lie,\u201d \u201cDon\u2019t cheat,\u201d or \u201cDon\u2019t steal other children\u2019s toys.\u201d Ethics are more than \u201cchecking the box\u201d on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) audits.\n\nEthics drive how we frame and make decisions. How do we protect people\u2019s privacy when AI needs so much data? Imagine you are programming a driverless car. When confronted with a crash scenario, should the car save its single occupant or seven pedestrians? Should the car prioritize saving older people or younger people? When using analytics, on what basis should hospitals allocate scarce beds in the intensive care unit? When screening job applicants, which resumes are rejected and which are reviewed? When deploying police, where should resources be focused? IT is not neutral or above the tough ethical questions organizations are confronting.\n\nCurrently the spotlight in tech ethics is split between how organizations treat their IT employees and how to prevent algorithmic misbehavior \u2014 for example, how to eliminate bias in training data. There is a movement under way to create a new human right against being subject to automated decision-making.\n\nIn the ethical IT organization of the future, we should be mindful of the decisions we make and their downstream ramifications. CIOs need to set the tone for their organization, establishing what is important, and what truly merits the time and attention of the professionals working with them. Great organizations might try to forecast future ethical dilemmas, for example, when there is a clash between personal and institutional values. Philosophy professors believe that one way to prepare to face real-world ethical dilemmas is to strengthen your moral muscle by practicing on hypothetical scenarios\/case studies.\n\nHow will you help your IT organization rise to the evolving ethical moment?