The Importance of Ethical Values in an Increasingly Ethics-Challenged World

Banking and Finance 2023 Magazine images
Talon Brown, Esq.

Amidst the passionate, oftentimes heated debate going on today around Artificial Intelligence-driven chatbots, one might be reminded of Robert Oppenheimer’s ominous quote referencing Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Following the first test of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer solemnly uttered the words of Vishnu: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Admittedly, it’s a bit hyperbolic to associate chatbots with the end of the world, but this new technology is frightening. In a recent New York Times article, the implications of misinformation stemming from tech like ChatGPT is sobering. “This tool is going to be the most powerful tool for spreading misinformation that has ever been on the internet,” said Gordon Crovitz, a co-chief executive of NewsGuard, a company that tracks online misinformation. “Crafting a new false narrative can now be done dramatically, and much more frequently - it’s like having AI agents contributing to disinformation.”

ChatGPT’s own blog underscores the limitations of the technology. “ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers ... While we’ve made efforts to make the model refuse inappropriate requests, it will sometimes respond to harmful instructions or exhibit biased behavior.” Not exactly reassuring.

What’s Missing is a Strong Ethical Foundation

New technology development and the undeniable lure of monetary opportunities has created a fertile environment for unethical actions that threaten to leave consumers, customers, and investors in a precarious position. Of course, ethics-challenged behavior is not limited to the emergence of AI and chatbots. One needs to only look at the recent headlines for examples.

Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX Trading Ltd., previously operated a cryptocurrency exchange and crypto hedge fund. Whether with ill intent or not, Bankman-Fried took advantage of customers, bilking them out of billions. Initial discussion focused primarily on the problems created by the unregulated crypto markets, but clearly, there are deeper issues at play. We must also look at the problems created by business people led exclusively by greed.

Thankfully, most disagree with those practices. In today’s business world, consumers increasingly demand that companies have values that align with their own. A strong ethical foundation is key to building trust and brand loyalty. Recent studies have shown that 64% of consumers want companies to make meaningful contributions toward the common good. In fact, Nielson reports 73% of millennials will pay extra for brands with a commitment to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) principles. Reporting also showed that 75% of customers would take negative action against a company for the opposite.

Ethical Behavior Can Be a Profit Motive

Having an ethical focus in business does not have to be antithetical to profits. Outdoor manufacturer Patagonia switched from using pesticide-heavy cotton crops to all organically grown plants in 1994. In addition, their leaders reimagined the company’s entire supply chain to ensure it was environmentally friendly and committed to safe working conditions. Today, Patagonia has a reputation for being highly ethical and environmentally friendly.

Another company known for being ethical is Starbucks - they’ve committed to 100% sustainably sourced beans. Starbucks uses third parties to verify that the company is buying at fair prices and that every step of the process, from planting to brewing, is always done in the most ethical way possible.

Ethical Leaders Don’t Just Grow on Trees

Of course, the key to ethical companies and ethical business practices starts with ethical business leaders. We need to teach and build up business people, entrepreneurs, and leaders who have a sense of exciting opportunities presented by an evolving business arena, while still doing things the right, fair, and just way.

While he wasn’t considering chatbots when he wrote about the importance of education in 1947, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood combating misinformation aided development of ethical values. While still a student at Morehouse College, he wrote in his school newspaper: “To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” Dr. King recognized that a healthy functioning society requires more than just educated thinkers, but critical thinkers who function with a moral compass.

University of West Los Angeles (UWLA) President, my colleague, mentor, and father, Robert W. Brown, Esq., said eloquently in a recent article, “In remembering Dr. King, we should consider his passionate belief that education is a crucial step toward a better tomorrow. And when supported by strong moral values, well-educated students hold the great potential to become highly respected and deeply influential leaders who can guide us to a more just and equitable world.”

An Incubator of Ethical Thinking

Schools of higher education have proven to be essential incubators of ethical thinkers and tomorrow’s values-driven leaders. UWLA is unique in this respect because of its foundational commitment to democratizing education, making quality higher and postgraduate education affordable and accessible to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity - especially those who work full-time and study part-time. This allows UWLA to have a more diverse student base, allowing for a broader spectrum of ideas and greater acceptance of differences. This learning environment is well suited to nurturing future leaders who bring a more ethical approach to business.

Another advantage of UWLA is the school’s focus on practical, outcome-oriented education, which is taught by respected faculty who are also practitioners in their field. The education provided at UWLA is more than theoretical; it’s useful. This type of practical learning helps develop a depth of knowledge and understanding that is invaluable to functioning effectively in the workplace.

Students exposed to a diverse and inclusive learning tend to come away grounded in fairness, equity, and respect. These graduates are more likely to become the ethically minded leaders of the future. They will be desperately needed in a business world increasingly driven by technology and unbridled opportunity.

-Talon Brown, Esq., Dean, University of West Los Angeles School of Business