Ethics of Computing
MONT 113G, Spring 2012
Introduction to Computer Ethics
To learn how to think about ethical issues surrounding use
of computers in terms of philosophical theories.
To gain a fuller understanding of the social and ethical
issues affected by computers.
To prepare ourselves to make good ethical decisions in a
To improve presentation, debating and writing skills.
What is meant by "Ethics"?
What does "Ethics" mean?
• "Moral principles that govern a person's or group's
• "The branch of knowledge that deals with moral
(From the Macintosh dictionary).
•When faced with a difficult choice or decision, how do we
decide on a good/moral course of action?
• When society creates rules/laws, how do we decide on rules
that produce good/moral outcomes or behavior?
Why Study Computer Ethics?
1. It will improve one's ability to reason (make decisions or
critique other's decisions) about right and wrong.
2. If one has ever made an ethical decision that one regrets...
3. Because ethical dilemmas will arise in your career and
you will be judged by your peers and others on the
"quality" of your decision.
Why not just study Ethics?
•Aren't the issues the same as before but in a new context?
•E.g. There have always been debates about privacy,
hidden camera's, wiretapping, etc.
•How do computers and technology change things? (We will
discuss in class).
•Computers have brought about the creation of new entities
and a new scale.
•New technologies are not always purely good. They need to
be evaluated. (E.g. Biological weapons)
The Standard Account
James Moore (1985) provided an account for why it is necessary
to study computer ethics.
a) Computers create new possibilities.
b) The new possibilities create policy vacuums.
c) Filling the vacuums often requires sorting out conceptual
Computers Create New
Examples: (Class suggestions)
Virtual worlds, such as "Second Life".
Should we pursue the new possibility?
How should we pursue it?
Who will gain?
Who will lose?
Ethical analysis considers whether a new technology should be
New Possibilities create Policy
When new technologies arise there are often no laws or rules
suitable for resolving questions that arise from them.
Example: Computer file access.
Are Hackers accessing files doing something wrong?
New technology often introduces conceptual muddles that must
be sorted out for policies to be formed.
What is a computer program? (Question for class)
A product? (patent law)
An expression of an idea? (copyright law)
A series of mental steps? (patent and copyright do not apply)
The conceptual muddle must be sorted out in order for companies
to own and sell software.
Problems with Standard
What are the problems with the standard account? (Class
1) Not specific to computers/IT
2) Emphasis on newness of technology ignores maturing
3) It ignores the social context of technology.
The Sociotechnical Systems
The Sociotechnical systems perspective can be summarized
by three rules.
1. Reject technological determinism--Think coshaping.
2. Reject technology as material objects--Think
3. Reject Technology as neutral--Think Technology infused
Sociotechnical systems provide a framework for examining
ethical issues associated with computer technology.
Why Computer Ethics?
•Technology is part of society and affects the way we act.
•Technology affects the courses of action available to us and
the decisions we make.
•The better we understand how technology affects us and
society, the better our decisions will be.