Ethical debt – Rusting the machinery of progress

Imagine embarking on a fantastic journey with a high-tech machine, designed to traverse the uncharted territory of Artificial Intelligence (AI). As time progresses, however, you notice small patches of rust appearing on your machine. You ignore them, busily focusing on speed and progress. Over time, the rust spreads. You spend some time and money patching it up, but it grows, compromising integrity until everyone on board starts to wonder if the wheels are going to fall off. This is ‘ethical debt’ – a corrosive force that, if left unchecked, can cripple innovation.

Decoding Ethical Debt

Ethical debt is the mounting burden of undiscovered risk and unresolved moral dilemmas that appear when we design, develop, and deploy AI systems without addressing ethical considerations adequately. Just like rust on a machine the patches start small, but without attention, these spread and weaken trust and confidence on a broader level. First for a system, then for a product or project, then spreading to undermine a whole strategy or even brand.

In the race to innovate and to be first-to-market, we might overlook these small spots of rust. The absence of robust ethical guidelines, insufficient expertise in making informed, intentional decisions within the business, and a failure to engage meaningfully with all stakeholders can exacerbate this corrosion.

The Consequences of Overlooking Ethical Debt

Failing to educating your organisation to understand the decisions that need making when using AI, enabling them to grapple with the dilemmas and trade-offs, and empowering them to make informed, intentional decisions introduces patches of doubt, uncertainty and unseen risk. Though they may start small, these can grow and become burdensome, ultimately stifling the innovation we aim to achieve as caution creeps in due to an increasingly apparent “elephant in the room” of unknown ethical risk.

Ethical debt is also technical debt. It represents future model retraining required, new versions rushed to market, workaround, recalls, unwinds and rework.

Finally, ignoring ethical debt can also erode trust in your AI systems, tarnishing your brand’s reputation. The potential for legal and regulatory repercussions can be costly and time-consuming. The societal implications, such as propagating biases or infringing on privacy, can be significant and far-reaching.

Act Now, Save Later

So, where do we start? By prioritising ethical considerations at the outset of AI development. Cultivate the expertise and culture to identify and navigate questions on these risks from the strategy through to individual use-cases. Engage with stakeholders – users, communities, experts – to identify potential moral issues and ensure diverse perspectives are incorporated into your AI systems. Give projects the time and ability to tackle questions of responsible use. The results will be products and services that delight customers, and processes that don’t make your team feel anxious.

The sooner we address these considerations, the less ethical debt we accumulate, the fewer negative outcomes we may face and the more confidence your organisation will have that they are making the right moves in AI. Addressing ethical debt isn’t just about preventing the rusting of our machine; it’s about ensuring our journey into the AI frontier is sustainable and beneficial for all.

It’s time to empower your organisation to make responsible AI a priority. By doing so, we ensure the machinery of progress we so carefully crafted doesn’t rust and crumble under the weight of our moral responsibilities.

Terms and Conditions: Emerging Technology Quick Scan Assessment

This assessment tool and all associated documentation has been prepared Maior Natu Pty Ltd ACN 649 020 039 as trustee for Sancus Trust ABN 46 507 741 242 trading as TechInnocens (TechInnocens) and is provided to you on the following conditions:


  • this tool and documentation is strictly confidential and is solely for your own use and that of your professional advisers. It must not be provided to any other party without the prior written consent of TechInnocens, which may be withheld in the absolute discretion of TechInnocens;
  • the content in this tool and documentation does not constitute advice (including tax, legal or ethical advice);
  • you should consider the appropriateness of the information contained in this tool and documentation and make your own decisions based on your individual and/or corporate objectives and needs. You should obtain independent legal, financial and/or other professional advice, as appropriate, relevant to your individual and/or corporate needs before making a decision based on this information.
  • you acknowledge that TechInnocens is the owner of the intellectual property owned or used in connection with this tool and documentation, including without limitation: any patent, know-how, trade mark, service mark, copyright, invention, design, trade secret or confidential information, and any other intellectual property or rights whether registered or not used in connection with or forming part of any business of TechInnocens (Intellectual Property);
  • you hereby disclaim any interest (implied or otherwise) that you may have or may be assumed to have in the Intellectual Property;
  • TechInnocens has the right to deal with the Intellectual Property in any way whatsoever, including to assign or licence the Intellectual Property to any third party; and
  • you agree not make any claim against TechInnocens in relation to the Intellectual Property.


Statements in this tool and documentation are made only as of the date of usage of the tool unless otherwise stated. TechInnocens is not responsible for providing updated information to you. Neither TechInnocens nor its officers make any representation or warranty as to, or take responsibility for, the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information contained in this tool and documentation. Nothing contained in this tool and documentation , nor any other related information made available to you is, or shall be relied upon as, a promise, representation, warranty or guarantee, whether as to the past, present or the future. 


To the maximum extent permitted by law, TechInnocens and its officers disclaim all liability that may otherwise arise from reliance upon this tool and documentation or due to any information contained in this tool and documentation being inaccurate or due to information being omitted from this tool and documentation , whether by way of negligence or otherwise.  Neither TechInnocens, its officers nor any other person guarantees the performance of any proposed information referred to in this tool and documentation . You must accept sole responsibility associated with the use and/or reliance of the material in this tool and documentation , irrespective of the purpose for which such use or results are applied.


The copyright in all information contained in this tool and documentation is owned by or licensed to TechInnocens.  Except as expressly permitted, no information may be copied, reproduced, transmitted or re-distributed. All rights reserved.