5.0243 Computer Ethics (Cross-posting) (2/105)
Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 24 Jul 1991 19:21:16 EDT
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0243. Wednesday, 24 Jul 1991.
(1) Date: Sat, 20 Jul 91 21:51 EDT (57 lines)
Subject: Why Is Computer Ethics Important? (from NSP-L)
(2) Date: Mon, 22 Jul 91 07:10 EDT (48 lines)
Subject: RE: Why Is Computer Ethics Important? (from ETHICS-L)
Date: Sat, 20 Jul 91 21:51 EDT
Subject: Why Is Computer Ethics Important?--Forwarded Message
20 July 91
The following message is forwarded from list NSP-L
In a recent posting on this list, Barry Floyd said:
>In keeping with the recent release of the Computers and Ethics
>conference announcement, I wondered if computers entailed any unique
>ethical dilemma's. Do they foster ethical situations unique to their
>operating environment (machine interface, information flow, etc.)?
>Will some existing ethical standards/rules have to be updated to take
>into account the utility of computers?
>In another group there has been discussion of citations and
>electronic journals. Copyright laws and intellectual property
>agreements are certainly open to impact by computers. Invasion of
>privacy, ownership of information (vs the media i.e. paper) seems
>equally prone to reinterpretation. Any other areas likely to require
>rethinking or reconsideration with respect to ethics and computers?
I'm always intrigued when people ask whether computing poses "unique"
ethical questions. Probably it does, and with a little effort and
some careful defining of key terms, we can come up with some. But
the importance (or even the EXISTENCE, some people would say) of
computer ethics as a research subject DOES NOT DEPEND UPON WHETHER
COMPUTING GENERATES *UNIQUE* ETHICAL DILEMMAS.
Computer technology is changing the world--including the research,
publication and teaching world of the professional philosopher. It
is having a profound impact upon human values of all kinds: privacy,
security, peace, health, ownership, freedom, democracy, knowledge,
truth, logic, reasoning, art, music, literature, government, and on
Isn't this enough to make computer ethics a vitally important
subject? If nearly all the things we value will eventually be
radically changed by computer technology, shouldn't we study-- and
attempt to direct and control--the impact of such technology? We
would be fools NOT to do so!
As I understand the field, Computer Ethics studies the impact of
computer technology upon human values. Whether such technology
generates UNIQUE dilemmas is an interesting, but NOT a central or
definitive question of computer ethics.
Terrell Ward Bynum, Director
Research Center on Computing & Society
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, CT 06515 USA
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 91 07:10 EDT
Subject: RE: Why Is Computer Ethics Important?
Forwarded from ETHIC-L:
>From Terrell Ward Bynum <BYNUM@CTSTATEU>:
Tom Lapp makes an interesting and useful suggestion about the nature
of computer ethics. Ultimately, though, I don't think his interesting
suggestion is correct (for the reasons that I offer below). Here is
my original definition and Tom's reply:
>> As I understand the field, Computer Ethics studies the impact of
>> computer technology upon human values. Whether such technology
>> generates UNIQUE dilemmas is an interesting, but NOT a central or
>> definitive question of computer ethics.
>At the very lowest cut (much generalities), I'd say that computer
>ethics are just a specialization of work ethics. There *may*
>be some unique dilemmas which occur in this specialty of ethics,
>but it seems to be more due to the features that computers provide
>in the workplace rather than the unique nature of the computer
>itself. For example, the speed at which computers allow communication
>to occur might allow some unique ethical issues that another
>medium which is not so high-speed might not allow.
Tom's suggestion might hold if computers were used just in the
workplace or just when one is working. Computers are indeed incredibly
flexible "tools" that can be used to do all sorts of "jobs"; but they
are far more than mere TOOLS. These days computing technology can be
found in all walks of life, affecting or being used for home activities,
play and recreation, government interaction with citizens (in voting,
for example), and so on. Indeed, some of the human values affected
(even radically transformed) by computing technology are play and
recreation, art and music, for example, which--for MOST people,
anyway--are not associated with their work or workplace.
Computer technology is dramatically altering the WHOLE world, even "the
third world", not just the work world. The "computer revolution" will
be as big as, or bigger than, the "industrial revolution" a hundred and
fifty years ago. It will change almost EVERYTHING in our society--and in
every society on earth--and eventually on the moon, mars, wherever
This is why the study of computer ethics is important. We should strive
to make computer technology ADVANCE AND ENHANCE HUMAN VALUES, rather than