When Dr. Amana Raquib began studying ethical issues associated with science and technology, she was struck by the need for scholarship informed by ethical traditions familiar to her as a Muslim.
“Not just as something that require[d] a deconstruction because there [was] a lot of critique already that was being produced within the Western … academic literature in the past few decades,” Dr. Raquib said on the third episode of the Notre Dame-IBM Tech Ethics Lab podcast Tech on Earth. “So I thought that there needs to be some constructive work that needs to be done through an Islamic … metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical perspective.”
An assistant professor of social sciences and liberal arts at the Institute of Business Administration Karachi in Karachi, Pakistan, Dr. Raquib is the author of the book Islamic Ethics of Technology: An Objectives’ (Maqāṣid) Approach.
She explained how the Maqāṣid is a paradigm consisting of several fundamental objectives that early Muslim theologians derived from the Islamic Scriptures, and that from an Islamic perspective, whatever human beings do or don’t do—with respect to technology or anything else—should honor these principles to secure the well-being of all humankind. She contrasted this against what she calls our era of postmodern technology, where innovation and new technologies are often pursued for their own sake, without being guided by any moral tradition.
“When we don't have any foundation to give us any sort of final values to aim to … what happens is that efficiency becomes the highest value or rather the norm, right?” Dr. Raquib said. “And it becomes enough to just say, you know, as a justification, or as a rationale behind anything, or any technology or technological application, that it saves up on time, it's more efficient, it saves up on labor, so on and so forth.”
In addition, she and host Elizabeth Renieiris discussed the relationship between the individual and the collective good in Islam.
“So also the paradigm that I've used, the objectives paradigm … it's very clear in that … if the individual good is conflicting with the collective good, then the collective good … is to be prioritized,” Dr. Raquib said.
She went on to tell Renieris that she doesn’t believe that tackling ethical issues with a specific technology is possible without a more holistic examination of the value frameworks in which tech is being developed.
“If somebody asked me, you know, We are designing this … one technology, can you come and help us with that one technology, I don't think it would work this way, right? Because one technology, again, is part of a greater nexus, you know, a web of technologies.”
Dr. Raquib, who holds a Ph.D. in religion, philosophy, and ethics from the University of Queensland, has been a faculty member at the Institute of Business Administration Karachi since 2015. Among other courses, she teaches “Are We Becoming Post-Human: Technology, Society, Ethics.”
She recently delivered two talks at the International Conference on Islamic Ethics and AI, including “Developing Human Beneficial AI Using Guidance from Islamic Maqasid.” In 2020, her project “Culturally Informed Pro-Social AI Regulation and Persuasion Framework” received a grant under the Facebook Research Ethics in AI Research Initiative for the Asia Pacific.
Tech on Earth is a podcast aimed at bringing a practical lens to tech ethics around the globe. You can listen to the episode with Dr. Raquib by using the player below, visiting the podcast’s homepage at techethicslab.nd.edu/tech-on-earth (includes a written transcript), or finding Tech on Earth in your favorite podcast app.
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