“If people followed the Cyber Ethics course, they would understand a lot better that cyber-attacks can be mitigated by becoming more ethical.”
Cybernetician, ethicist, and Cyber Ethics course co-instructor and developer Arend van Campen (AvC) chats with Communications and Digital Marketing Manager Josie Hough (JH) about his journey from the oil and gas industry to teaching with Globethics and why learning about cyber ethics is so crucial.
JH: Arend, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. First of all, can you tell me about your background and how it led you to work with Globethics?
AvC: My background is about 45 years of work experience – maybe longer, even! I’ve been in the oil and gas industry for the past 40-plus years. I was a technician, but also a philosopher, so there have always been two sides to my work life.
Early on, when everyone else was reading technical manuals, I was reading Jung, Kant, Socrates… I was always interested in questions like, Why are we? What are we doing here? How can we make sure that we survive and live peacefully?
After having my 5 minutes of fame publishing a book about the oil spill disaster in the Ivory Coast in 2006, and graduating with my Master's in Business Ethics and Social Responsibility at 53 years old, I decided I wanted to know more about ethics.
I moved to Switzerland in 2014 and was invited to a conference by CSR expert Michael Hopkins [developer of the Globethics Academy Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development course and member of the Pool of Experts] and Anh Tho [Andres Kammler, also Pool of Experts member], and that’s how I got to know Globethics.
Then I did some work for UBS on cybernetics – the science of governance, communication and control in the animal and the machine. It’s not the same as cyber ethics but it is linked to it, and that started my interest in information theory, which I’m now doing my PhD on.
JH: Quite the journey! What is the link between cybernetics and cyber ethics?
AvC: Cyber ethics addresses the tendency to automate everything. Automation is not all convenient and fine; you can automate things that are harmful to humankind, for example, weapons or artificial intelligence that can abuse information. For me, information theory is the key to survival. As soon as information is manipulated with ulterior motives, it can be harmful, and that’s where ethics, particularly cyber ethics, comes in.
Cyber systems and cybersecurity systems are very vulnerable, as you can see every day in your spam box – the people trying to have you sign a document or accept a payment, abusing the online system for their own financial benefit. If people learnt more about this, it would be less risky. That's why I joined Globethics and offered my knowledge, my experience, not just in cyber ethics but also in global business.
JH: So how can having this understanding and knowledge about cyber ethics lead to a more just, inclusive and sustainable world?
AvC: A lot of people do not understand the word ethics. Ethics is not just doing the right thing, but doing things right.
Personally, I think the word sustainable is outdated – I prefer “non-harmful”. The environment, social cohesion and life should never be harmed by anything we create, build, organise, or construct. Ethics is doing the right thing, while not being harmful.
So, if we work to base our policies, our governmental policies, and our business policies on that, then we may have a chance to create better-designed man-made things. This is actually the topic of my PhD research: how to use information to design non-harmful man-made systems.
JH: How does the Cyber Ethics course play into information theory and what do you think makes it stand out, why should people take it?
AvC: If people – and industries, for example, oil and gas – followed the cyber ethics classes, they would understand a lot better that cyber-attacks can be mitigated, not with more security, but through the ethical handling of the cyber world, of the web, of information technology.
JH: The benefits of learning more about cyber ethics are clear, but what would you say are the key learnings that you have enjoyed as an instructor?
AvC: You know, the first thing a teacher realises is that they have to be a learner too. I have a company training people in the oil and gas industry worldwide. Interaction with students is crucial for learning quality and mutual understanding. You cannot just tell a student what to do. You have to ask them, what would you do? What is the right thing to do? What would you do if you were there?
I’ve learnt to ask these rhetorical questions, so students answer from their conscience, which works wonderfully.
JH: Speaking of instructors being learners – with new and emerging technology moving so fast, how do you keep the course keep up to date?
AvC: We get together every year to see what's new and update everything that we think is useful for the students to learn. It's a race against time almost. There’s so much to learn, developments come faster and faster, each with their ethical challenges – for example, with ChatGPT, how will it run our lives? Will it be replacing a lot of jobs?
I think it’s about the quality and quantity of information, not about simply finding or giving answers. It’s so easy to automate answering and just ask ChatGPT. But automation is a paradox. The more you automate, the less you learn. I always say, please keep learning. Keep reading.
And then we have the issue of misinformation and censorship, new laws coming out on censorship that risk reducing the quantity and the quality of information. This class aims to inform and empower students and give them an ethical framework to address this.
JH: And what would you say motivates you – what is it that makes you go: “I need to be teaching this”?
AvC: Oh, I think compassion. Concern that this world is not going in the right direction. Social cohesion is being destroyed and I really fear that means that the society will be collapsing because the information is lacking to sustain it. I am just a medium to offer information – cyber ethics is a large volume of relevant and very, very crucial information.
JH: Thank you, Arend! Have you got anything else to add?
AvC: The relationship between work, life and society now depends on the ethical handling of cyber information. Otherwise, we allow Google, Facebook and so on to use our information – that we offer them for free – for their own financial purposes, in their own power plays. We don't have to do that. We can learn about ethics instead and be careful with the information we share. So, to everybody who is interested in this course, please join!