Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Nov. 3, 2021, 8:46 a.m. Humanist 35.341 - an ethical 'great divide'?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 341.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-11-03 08:24:59+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: a 'great divide' in computational systems?

I'd appreciate some well-informed help with the ethics of computing
systems. In a recent post on SIGCIS, Paul Edwards drew attention to the
correlation between purpose and outcome in these systems. In many 
instances familiar to us, the correlation is very close, so that we can say 
with confidence that their ethical neutrality is due to the purpose for 
which they were designed. When, however, computing systems become 
intimate with human conversations in the wild, as in social media, 
the designer's or implementer's purpose may become irrelevant, and 
ethics of the system highly problematic. Sure, we may say, 'guns don't 
kill people, people kill people' -- but you might respond, guns bring out 
latent behaviours of which everyone is capable. You might also refer to 
that great science fiction movie, Forbidden Planet, and leap from it to 
Shakespeare's The Tempest (on which the movie's script was based).

Comments? In computing systems, is there an historical 'moment', 
however fuzzy, when they turned the ethical corner in this respect?

Many thanks.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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