Humanitarian Wearables: Digital Bodies, Experimentation and Ethics
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This chapter reflects on the ethical challenges raised by humanitarian technology experimentation, as illustrated through the topical example of ‘humanitarian wearables’. Humanitarian wearables are conceptualized as smart devices that can be placed on or inside the bodies of aid beneficiaries for many purposes, including tracking and protecting health, safety and nutrition. This type of technology development and the prospect of its mass-distribution in the humanitarian space raises significant questions for the field of humanitarian ethics. The analytical point the chapter seeks to make is that wearables – and the discourses surrounding them at this point in time—represent a form of experimentation with the nature and direction of aid. With a product whose main purpose is to collect and return large amounts of intimate personal data, the product is not the wearable but rather the data being returned to humanitarian actors and their private sector partners. As a contribution to the growing body of scholarship on humanitarian technology ethics, the chapter fleshes out three possible approaches to wearables: the top-down humanitarian imperatives and principles framework; a proposed revisited version of the bottom-up rights-based approaches—now involving an RBA to data—and the emergent data justice approach, where stakeholders relationship to the key resource—data—is at the center of the analysis.
Research for this chapter was funded by the PRIO-hosted project ‘Do No Harm: Ethical Humanitarian Innovation’ (EtHumIn), and the UiO-hosted project ‘Vulnerability in the Robot Society (VIROS), both funded by the Research Council of Norway.
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