People, machines, data, and processes are becoming increasingly interlinked, with technological advances transforming our society and posing new ethical challenges. Our digital ethics activities describe how we responsibly handle data and algorithms.
Our approach to corporate digital responsibility
As it is our aim to develop and use new digital technologies responsibly, we promptly identify any ethical issues that may arise from algorithm-driven and data-based business models. Since 2021, our Digital Ethics Advisory Panel (DEAP) has been focusing on complex ethical issues surrounding digital technologies and supports that our digital business model follows a holistic, ethical approach.
Roles and responsibilities
The DEAP discusses ethical issues arising from our digital applications and business activities, especially in the healthcare sector. One of its main tasks is to help ensure that we develop digital innovations responsibly while addressing potential digital ethics questions that could result from collecting and processing data as well as from the use of these digital technologies.
The panel, which issues recommendations on our actions as a company, consists of external international science and industry experts from the fields of digital ethics, law, Big Data technologies, digital health, medicine, and data governance. In addition, we involve bioethics experts as well as representatives from patient organizations as needed. The DEAP receives its mandate from the Executive Board and our employees may submit topics for the panel to discuss. Summary minutes of DEAP meetings and the recommendations made will be available on our intranet from 2023 onwards, provided that they do not contain any confidential business information. The panel held four meetings in 2022, focusing on ethical challenges that could result from our business model for bioelectronics.
Our commitment: Guidelines and standards
As a company, we want to position ourselves with respect to digital ethics. We are therefore developing clear ethical standards in this new field, primarily for critical areas, for instance handling health data, doing so in collaboration with various stakeholders and experts.
Together with the DEAP, we apply our Code of Digital Ethics (CoDE), in order to address issues pertaining to the ethical use of data and algorithms. The CoDE serves as a guideline for our digital business models, a tool for analyzing ethical challenges and a basis for practical DEAP recommendations.
It is based on five core principles: justice, autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and transparency. These principles in turn provide a clear structure for assessing ethical issues. Moreover, they support our business sectors and individual employees in difficult situations for which laws or other types of regulations do not (yet) exist. The CoDE not only helps us to assess the ethical risks posed by existing activities, but also enables us to evaluate the ethical aspects of newly emerging digital solutions. We have already tested this in initial application areas.
As one of our overarching governance documents, the CoDE applies to all employees and is publicly accessible. In 2022, we developed an employee training course on the CoDE, which we plan to roll out in 2023. The CoDE was developed together with a scientific partner as part of a structured process. In 2022, we published articles on the scientific development process and the legal implications of the CoDE in the journals AI & Society and RDi - Recht Digital.
Strategic partnership for innovative therapeutic solutions
In 2022, the DEAP mainly addressed questions arising from Syntropy, a digital joint venture between our company and Palantir Technologies. This partnership aims to leverage patient data to advance the discovery of medicines to treat cancer and other diseases. Syntropy makes it possible to collect and process these data in a secure environment in order to develop new insights from them.Â At the same time, Syntropy ensures that the ownership of the data remains with the institutions from which they originated. This partnership allows the scientific community to collaborate in new ways and achieve shared objectives in cancer research.
Since the end of 2022, our Life Science Data Intelligence and Analytics unit ACE has been working to record the potential ethical risk of projects in a structured way. It analyzes data from the Life Science business sector in order to obtain insights for our business.
The tool, which is currently under development, is expected to enable the early identification of ethical risks. To this end, a scoring system has been developed to generate a risk assessment for each project. The risk score has implications for product development. The ACE unit is currently working on 700 projects, reviewing them for ethical risks at all decision-making points throughout the product life cycle.