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22 August 2016

Emerging Bioethics: the New Collaborative Society as a Challenge to Inequality

Estimated reading time Time 4 to read

The value of collaboration/sharing is a value in itself that is inherent to every human being and is enshrined in social and community life; while technology (the Internet) is an instrumental value that can add value to achieve a goal for society. The economy forms part of a form of life based on collective values.

The construction of social reality through the Internet

The new collaborative culture is being constructed both at individual and social level through the Internet, which is now the focus and common space for virtual collaboration. The Net is a technological instrument that allows billions of people to intercommunicate and exchange goods and services, and of course to share values, ideas, creativity, feelings, emotions, etc. in real time, but virtually and at global level. It is now an unquestionable fact that the Internet has led to great economic, health and educational change and is revolutionizing the way people communicate and understand society, through a new virtual relationship that has never been seen before. It has boosted new ways, forms, angles and styles of seeing and observing the world. Despite the inequality in Internet use, companies such as Facebook (, 2013) are working with advanced technologies to bring the Internet to the whole world with reliable connections, whether by means of drones equipped with solar panels or by satellites with the capacity to broadcast Internet signals through infrared lasers. It is the powerful influence of the Internet that extends to the economy, education and health, and is capable of reducing inequality.

Reflections on digital bioethics

Thoughts about the emergence of the new bioethics on the Internet

It is a question of the bioethical benefits and disadvantages of interconnecting the planet, between everyone and everything, so that this interconnection not only improves social relations in the use of goods and services, but also serves to promote values and human rights.

Among the benefits that can be listed are:

  • The new emerging society is collaborative, particularly in the case of young people, as we are experiencing a shift of paradigm and values. For example, interconnection via the Internet breaks isolation by online sharing of music, videos, images etc., while many goods and services are already being exchanged: information, data, transportation, trips, food, etc., as well as experience, knowledge, ideas, values, creativity, innovation, personal and group relations, etc. Another interesting facet of this collaborative society is the collection of money through small donations (crowdfunding) to help cure the sick, research into rare diseases, carry out trials with vaccines, provide drug treatments, etc. It is a way of benefiting millions of people and reducing inequality.
  • In only a few decades, the Internet has expanded the forms of virtual sharing. It is a new way of relating for everyone, particularly the young generations. It is a social phenomenon that is on the rise. In turn, the paradigm is changing, with the emphasis being more on access to goods and services than on their ownership. One example of this is the so-called Napster generation, a network founded in 1999, in which millions of people (young people) began to share music, files, etc. among their peers at low or zero cost online. It demonstrated the emergence of the “era of access”, which drove many record companies to bankruptcy.
  • In addition, the voluntary and collaborative nature of the young generations is showing more reciprocity and transparency with respect to virtual intimacy (genetics), personal identity, confidentiality, privacy, creativity, interconnectivity, working methods, etc. Examples of this would include the tracking and monitoring of rare diseases among families and populations, online access to medical histories, online medical checkups, sharing intimacies and privacy within groups, etc.

This manner of interconnecting online also has its disadvantages, which can prevent the normal development of the Internet of Things (IoT). Some of them are:

  • Society, at any rate Western society, with a strong capitalist bias, needs a transition period in the move toward the collaborative society. If this does not happen in a harmonic and democratic way, the IoT could experience many difficulties in its growth and development. One example is the case of the labor and legal conflicts experienced by Uber, at least in some European countries. The complaints in the case of the transport of passengers are obvious: Uber is an intruder, it takes away jobs, doesn’t pay taxes, etc.

The Internet of Things

Global interconnectivity is the source of many bioethical problems. They include: theft of data and patents, attacks against intimacy, violation of privacy, lack of responsibility, stigmatizing of faults, lack of transparency, exposure to cyberattacks, promotion of bioterrorism, violations of human dignity and human rights, rejection of life or work insurance due to the genetic information on the applicant, deceit and forgery of personal or group identities, danger to life, health, work, bank assets, etc. Interconnection online can generate not only malice but also a greater level of injustice and inequality. For example, a greater digital gap than there is now, or a new capitalism with a virtual structure, more powerful and enslaving than the existing economic capitalism.

By way of conclusion:

  • Collaboration is already a virtual value.
  • The new culture of collaboration is constructed through the Internet.
  • The emergence of the Era of Collaboration is revolutionizing ways of collaboration and sharing between individuals, groups and societies, due to the phenomenon of prosumers.
  • The extension of online secondary, university and postgraduate education, at zero or nearly zero marginal cost, is an incalculable benefit in terms of reducing inequality in the global village.

To access the original version published in Fundación madri+d click here.

José Mª Rodríguez Merino

Doctor of Philosophy. Expert in Bioethics



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