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Reason, Relativity, and Responsibility in Computer Ethics. James H. Moor. Searching for Ethics in the Global Village.

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Reason, Relativity, and Responsibility in Computer Ethics

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searching for ethics in the global village
Searching for Ethics in the Global Village
  • “We are entering a generation marked by globalization and ubiquitous computing. The second generation of computer ethics, therefore must be an era of ‘global information ethics.’” Bynum and Rogerson
  • “The widespread desire to be wired should make us reflect on what awaits as the computer revolution explodes around the world. The digital genie is out of the bottle on a world-wide scale.” Moor
global village 2
Global Village (2)
  • There is disagreement about the nature of computer ethics
    • He disagrees with two positions, both are popular
      • A) “Routine Ethics” position – ethical problems in computing are regarded as no different from ethical problems in any field, there is nothing special about them.
        • Apply established customs, laws, and norms to access the situations straightforwardly
      • B) “Cultural Relativism” – local customs and laws determine what is right and wrong
          • But computing crosses cultural boundaries as well as national and state boundaries
  • Routine ethics makes computer ethics trivial, and
  • Cultural Relativism makes it impossible
  • Discuss the above two statements
  • The problems of computer ethics, in some cases, are special and exert pressure on our understanding
logical malleability and informational enrichment
Logical Malleability and Informational Enrichment
  • Computers are logically malleable – they are general purpose machines like no others
  • Computers are informationally enriching
    • They certainly automate, and
    • They informate – they are able to collect information while working, that information can be used in making decisions
      • How does this contrast with industrial age machines?
the special nature of computer ethics
The Special Nature of Computer Ethics
  • Moor believes that computer ethics is a special field of ethical research and application in that
    • “Computer ethics has two parts: (I) the analysis of the nature and social impact of computer technology and (ii) the corresponding formulation and justification of policies for the ethical use of such technology.”
  • Should a supervisor be able to read a workers e-mail or should government be able to censor information on the Internet?
    • Initially, there may be no clear policies on such matters
    • They never arose before
    • There are policy vacuums in these situations
special nature 2
Special Nature (2)
  • Sometimes may just need to establish policy
  • Othertimes may need more analysis
    • Is e-mail in the workplace more like correspondence on company stationary in company files or more like private and personal phone conversations
  • There is often a conceptual muddle where the issues are not trivial matters of semantics
  • Suppose a supervisor learns about a workers health issues by review of e-mail – the consequences may be significant
  • Eventually some clear understanding of the issues and justifiable policy should emerge
  • Because computers are logically malleable, they will continue to be applied in unpredictable and novel ways generating numerous policy vacuums for the forseeable future.
reasons within relative frameworks
Reasons within Relative Frameworks
  • Computer ethics is not rote
  • But, rejecting Routine Ethics leaves many uncomfortable
    • If ethics is not routine how can it be done at all?
  • Cultural Relativism doesn’t help solve the problem
    • Cultural Relativism indicates that ethical issues must be decided situationally on the basis of local customs and laws
      • Problem: since computing activity is globally interactive, using local customs and laws will not in general help us with an answer when customs and laws conflict
      • Do you pick the customs and laws of the originator or the receiver?
      • Problem: If we go the route of Cultural Relativism we can now run into policy vacuums for every culture
      • A computing situation may prove to be so novel that there are no customs or laws established anywhere to cope with it
what to do
What to Do?
  • Shortcomings of routine ethics and cultural relativism may make one cautious about doing applied ethics at all
  • Moor feels that this may be one reason why some are sometimes reluctant to teach computer ethics
  • Ethical issues seem to be too elusive and vague
  • Computer folks generally like facts, true, false, right, wrong
  • Remember introduction to semester: “Ethics is not a science”
reasons within relative frameworks example
Reasons within Relative Frameworks: Example
  • Value frameworks provide us with the sorts of reasons we consider relevant when justifying particular value judgments
  • In doing computing one must often make decisions using values of the discipline
  • A computer programmer knows what makes a computer program a good program
    • It works, has been thoroughly tested, doesn’t have bugs, it well structured, is well documents, runs efficiently, is easy to maintain, has a friendly interface
    • These are all properties of a good program
    • These values are essentially standards that are agreed upon among professional computer programmers
  • What are Ethical Principles? (Day 1)
    • What is the connection to this discussion?
reasoning frameworks 2
Reasoning Frameworks (2)
  • Computer programmers may disagree on facts
  • Eg, Is object oriented programming better than structured programming?
  • This may seem like a disagreement of standards but by testing which produces fewer bugs
  • This may seem like a disagreement about values but the value is still to produce programs with fewer bugs
  • The dispute is which technique (fact) produces the desired result
  • No programmer regards ineffective, untested, buggy, unstructured, undocumented, inefficient, unmaintainable code with an unfriendly interface as a good program!
many any p 50
Many/Any p. 50
  • Discussion of the relativity of values sometimes engage in the Many/Any Fallacy
  • This occurs when one reasons from the fact that many alternatives are acceptable to the claim that any alternative is acceptable
  • Ex) There are many ways for a travel agent to route someone between Savannah and Kalamazoo
    • It doesn’t follow that any way of sending someone between these cities is acceptable
  • Similarly, many different computer programs may be good but not just any computer program is good
core values p 50
Core Values p 50?
  • You read this section
  • End coverage of this chapter