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Computer Ethics: Responsibility Regained

Donald Gotterbarn

INTRODUCTION In an address to the Computers and Quality of Life Conference[1], Gary Chapman, director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility described his perception of the state of work in computer ethics. He said that, over the years he had attended many meetings where computer ethics and social issues were discussed and that he keeps hearing the same thing. He has noticed no progress in the field. I think he is right. An examination of the current state of computer ethics will reveal some causes for this lack of progress and enable us to see some positive directions to take to make some progress in computer ethics.

THE PROBLEM The extensive discussion of computer ethics in the past few years has had little consequence. A look at the content of these discussions reveals a primary source of the problem, viz., an absence of a coherent concept of computer ethics. The types of events that are subsumed under issues in computer ethics are so varied that one does not have a clear concept of computer ethics. Starting from a clouded concept of computer ethics, one cannot derive clear ethical positions.

I will show the difficulties with the current concept of computer ethics, and describe some of the difficulties created by this concept. Then I will offer an alternative approach to computer ethics which both avoids the current difficulties and broadens the concept of computer ethics to include both proscriptive and prescriptive judgements.

UNMANAGEABLE DEFINITION - The discussion of computer ethics includes large social questions like:

1. Should we sell computers to countries supporting terrorism?

2. Is it right to replace unskilled workers with computer guided robots? and

3. What are the health consequences of using video display terminals?

The discussion also includes all sorts of individual abuses accomplished with the use of computers. There is new species of "yellow journalism" about computing that consists of retelling stories of abuses committed with computers or of computer catastrophes. The problem is that these stories are presented as issues in computer ethics. They include stories of: how someone committed fraud with the use of a computer, how someone used a computer to change their grades, and how someone used a computer to design an effective drug smuggling route. From these collections of tales one is supposed to abstract a coherent concept of computer ethics. If these are tales about computer ethics because they involve the use of a computer, then my use of a scalpel to rob someone is a problem of medical ethics and my hitting someone with a law book is a case of legal ethics. Both the physician and the lawyer would find it absurd if we used tales like these as evidence of the moral failures of physicians and lawyers. In the same way the fact that an unethical act was simplified by the existence of a computer does not entail that the act is an issue in computer ethics.

The computer is a device that has an impact on almost every aspect of our lives, as such it can be used in broad range of unethical activities. This involvement of a computer does not transform every such activity into a problem of computer ethics, just as the use of a junk yard's car crusher to commit a murder does not turn the murder into problem in junk yard ethics.

UNSOLVABLE PROBLEMS - The absence of a clear concept of computer ethics allows one to include all sorts of interesting moral dilemmas as issues in computer ethics. For example the following has been used as a problem in computer ethics. Johnny's mother is suffering from a rare, but manageable, disease. The disease, if uncontrolled, has an unalterable painful and fatal outcome. The medicine to manage the disease is so expensive that the only way Johnny can pay for it is to use his computer to commit fraud. What is the moral thing for Johnny to do? This problem includes large social questions such as the responsibility of society for health care and, the obligations of children to their parents. It also includes issues about how one reasons ethically; does one reason based on duty or consequences? This problem is so broad that it can't be considered an issue of any particular type of ethics. Nevertheless, because a computer is tangentially related to the story, it is portrayed as an issue in computer ethics. The fact that such a complex moral problem is exceedingly difficult to resolve is used as evidence that issues in computer ethics cannot be resolved.

The claim that problems in computer ethics cannot be resolved is an extremely dangerous position. If there can be no resolution to problems in computer ethics, then clearly we should not waste our time worrying about them.

The "no resolution view" has been reinforced by some recent works. For example, Donn Parker[2] uses a voting methodology to decide what is ethical in computing. He gathered the opinions of people from several professions, ranging from accountants, attorneys, psychologists and philosophy professors to computer professionals. They were asked to vote on the ethics of individuals described in scenarios. He says, this work was not guided by a concept of computer ethics nor was there an attempt to discover ethical principles. He called this approach "micro-ethics." Not only was there an absence of a concept of computer ethics but the primary direction was an emphasis on proscribed activities. The only direction was that the scenarios were " written in such a way as to raise questions of unethicality rather than ethicality. [2, p.8]" Donn Parker used the diversity of opinions expressed about these scenarios to argue that there was no such thing as computer ethics. And a fortiori, that it could not be taught in a computer science curriculum.

Parker's conclusion is not justified for two reasons. First, it does not follow from his own evidence. Second, the evidence examined has little to do with Computer Ethics. The presumption that there can be no agreement in ethics can be so strong that it corrupts one's view of the evidence. For example, at a conference, Parker described the results of his 1977 workshop. He began by saying that there was agreement on many scenarios. Then went on to say, "We got a lot of very close votes. In other words, we were not able to obtain a consensus on what is unethical and not unethical in the computer field.[3]" This conclusion requires that he ignores all the places where there was agreement. It does not follow from the existence of some gray areas in a domain that there are there are no clear areas in a domain. The existence of hard problems in math - like the discrete decimal value of 1/3 - is not proof that there are no solutions in math. He handles the evidence in the same way in his revision of the 1977 book[4]. The only cases he brings forward to the new book are those which generated the highest degree of diversity of opinion. He ignored those on which there had been a significant degree of unanimity.

More significant than the question of how the evidence is evaluated is the presumption that the scenarios are about issues in computer ethics. The discussion of the morality of a professor (who happens to be a computer science professor) who gave no acknowledgment of a student's contribution to the professor's research and the discussion of the engineer who used and marketed a computer device to calculate blackjack odds seems to have little relation to computer ethics.

NEW & UNIQUE SUBJECT - I think the presumed breadth of the subject of computer ethics has have contributed to development of other dangerous misconceptions. It is claimed that computer ethics is not like other ethics; it is described as both a new area of ethics and as a unique kind of ethics. Early attempts to define computer ethics have argued for its uniqueness.[5] The arguments for its uniqueness are based on: the speed of the technology, the logical flexibility of computers, or the computer's impact on society. The arguments for its newness, based on speed and social impact, have been addressed and rejected elsewhere.[6] It is not unique because of its impact. There are many devices that have had a significant impact on society on society such as the printing press for which we did not develop a new and unique ethics called printing press ethics. The computer's ability logically to model an enormous number of events is the basis for the flexibility claim. This flexibility of the computer is due to the underlying strengths of the logical and mathematical capabilities implemented in the computer. The underlying flexibility of math and logic is greater than that of the computer, but we did not develop "logic ethics" and "mathematics ethics".

Why should we be concerned about these claims of newness and uniqueness? We generally think of newness and uniqueness as positive attributes. The newness[7] claim leads people to think that computer ethics has not yet found its primary ethical standard, so the discussion of computer ethics is not yet directed by any guiding principles from which we can reason. This is different from our understanding of the older more established professions. Medicine, for example, is viewed as having a primary ethical principle -- prevent death-- from which physicians can use to guide their reasoning. The inference from the newness claim is that we cannot make ethical decisions in computer ethics because we have not yet found a primary ethical principle. The uniqueness claim is even more dangerous. It leads one to think that not only are the ethical standards undiscovered, but the model of ethical reasoning itself is yet to be discovered, that is, even if we find a primary principle we won't know how to reason from it.

Why do people think that computer ethics is not like other ethics? Other forms of ethics seem to have fixed domains or methods for making decisions. Medical ethics defines patient-medical provider relationships. Legal ethics circumscribes the acceptable behavior of legal professionals. Because the concept of computer ethics has been stretched so far, there does not seem to be a clear domain for computer ethics. The scope of computer ethics has been made so broad that it includes numerous and conflicting values and methodologies. The scope of computer ethics is frequently characterized as encompassing ALL moral abuses committed with a computer. "The moral values we place on computer use and misuse constitute the ethics of computer usage." [6, p 295] Social scientists characterize computer ethics as including all discussions of social institutions transformed by computers.[5, p. 272] No wonder computer ethics seems like some confusing amorphous area that is different from all other areas of ethics.

Under scrutiny, the notion that computer ethics includes all abuses committed with a computer leads to absurdity. This broadly conceived concept of computer ethics is dangerous. I maintain that computer ethics is not unique; the ethical issues of computer ethics as broadly defined above are either subsumable under the issues of general ethics or they are a type of professional ethics.

THE GAP - These confusions about computer ethics and the absence of a discussion about a concept of computer ethics has led to some significant confusions and dangerous conclusions. There is also a surprising lacuna in the computer ethics literature. In medical ethics, the discussion is about the actions of health professionals in their role's as health care providers. In computer ethics as broadly construed, there is no discussion about the actions of the computing professionals in their role as computer professionals. Unlike medical ethics, most of the discussion in computer ethics is about things that are beyond the horizon of control of the individual professional. Most practicing computer professionals don't decide whether to sell computers to foreign countries, nor do they get to decide whether the federal government will use computer technology in its weaponry. Even, when the described issues are within an individual's control, they have little to do specifically with the process of developing computing artifacts.

The only way to make sense of "Computer Ethics" is to narrow its focus to those actions that are within the horizon of control of the individual MORAL computer professional. Narrowing the domain of computer ethics in this way, does not lessen the significance of those topics that have been mistakenly included as issues as computer ethics. I believe that such a correction will make the resolution of those broader issues easier. Those issues will no longer suffer from the red herring that they cannot be solved because as issues in computer ethics they require some yet to be determined new type of ethics and a new type of ethical reasoning.

Narrowing the focus in this way also will make computer ethics relevant to the typical computer professional who, I presume, is a moral individual. Computer ethics as broadly conceived is irrelevant to the typical computer professional, who does not want to commit fraud and who does not decide who will sell computers to another country. It also will draw attention to the positive side of computer ethics, those acts that are prescribed as well as those which are proscribed.

Discussions of professional computer ethics are almost non-existent in the general literature. There is little attention paid to the domain of professional ethics --the values that guide the day to day activities of computing professionals in their role as professionals. By computing professional I mean anyone involved in the design and development of computer artifacts. Computer artifacts include things like: program documentation, test plans and test cases, feasibility studies, source code, user manuals, system maintenance manuals and design documents, that is, all the products of the system development process. The ethical decisions made during the development of these artifacts have a direct relationship to many of those issues discussed under the broader concept of computer ethics. I believe many of those issues are the result of bad computer ethical decisions made during software development.

PROFESSIONAL- There are a variety of reasons to discuss the concept of a professional and whether particular groups are professionals. Employers do not like to consider their computing staff as professionals because then they would get a higher salary. Others denying the status of professional to some groups because they do not fit the definition of professional. I want to use the concept of professional to understand computer ethics as it relates to the builder of computer artifacts. In the literature [8,9] there are several characteristics common to the concept of a common to the professional. The occupation of a professional, which is primarily mental, generally requires advanced skill and training. Some organization generally certifies this skill and admits the person to the profession. The position of a professional generally involves some kind of service to society such as practicing medicine or law.

Traditionally it has also included the concept of autonomy. Training provides a variety of technical solutions to a problem and then the professional picks among these using their professional judgement to pick the best solution. The existence of some form of autonomy is critical to ascribing moral responsibility to the professional. Some people [9] have argued that the concept of autonomy no longer fits the concept of professional. They point to the existence of professional organizations (PCS) and claim that there is no longer any autonomy of judgement. I think the notion of autonomy is critical to the concept of a professional and it is just as evident in a physician's decision while practicing in a PC as it is for a computing professional working in a large corporation. When one enters a physicians office, even one who belongs to a PC, the physician has available a variety of cures for a particular ailment. They use their professional judgement in determining which cure would be the best in any particular case, or even if a cure is needed. The same thing is true for the computing professional who, when presented with a particular problem, has several standard and effective design methodologies to choose from. There is still autonomy of judgement about how to achieve a particular end. There are, of course, some constraints on the options that can be chosen. There are a standard set of procedures that a physician goes through before recommending a particular solution. There are also a set of standards in determining whether a professional physician will exercise his skills in particular situations. If they did not exercise autonomous judgement we would not consider them professional.

So far we have focused on the technical skill and judgement of the professional in completing their tasks. But there is another significant element in professionalism that has not been articulated in these standard definitions.

We have acted as if the standard of good professional judgement is purely technical. But there is something missing here. Consider the following example. What would you think of a physician who, when asked by a patient to cut off both of his arms at the elbow, said "I will do it right now. I have been specially trained in surgery."? Even if the physician did this in a technically skilled fashion, we would not say he was acting professionally. Where was the exercise of the values for the well being of the patient in this judgement. Technically, he chose the correct scalpel and anesthetic. What he failed to do was to condition his technical judgement by a set of moral values. Accepting a role of professional also carries with it a commitment to a set of ethical principles.

ETHICAL DECISIONS - Insight into how these values are used, will provide some insight into how ethics related to the computing profession. One of the things that sets professional ethics apart is that ethical rules and judgements are made in a particular context such as medicine and law. The contexts in which these judgements are made alter the ordering of the application of moral rules. For example, in medical ethics the principle of "informed consent" is a primary ethical principle, whereas in journalistic ethics this principle has a much weaker impact on ethical judgements. The "principle of confidentiality" has different weights in different contexts. The physician who learns of a patient's pregnancy in their role as a physician requires stronger reasons to divulge this pregnancy then does the patient's acquaintance who is asked by their own mother about the pregnancy. By analogy, ethics for the computing professional is not another kind of ethics but it is ethical rules and judgements applied in a computing context based on professional standards and a concern for the user of the computing product. The attitude of "let the buyer beware" is not the attitude of the physician nor of the civil engineer, nor should it be the attitude of the computing professional.

COMPUTING AS A SERVICE- I think the failure to see that computing products are only used to serve the needs of others and the failure of the professional to keep the welfare of the user in mind has led directly to several instances of unethical behavior. There are several causes for these failures. One cause is simple ignorance. We train computer scientists to solve problems and the examples we use, such as finding the least common multiple (LCM) for a set of numbers, portrays computing as merely a problem solving exercise, analogous to doing a crossword puzzle. Solving the puzzle is an interesting exercise, but it lacks significant consequences.

The failure to realize that computing is a service profession to the user of the computing artifact has significant consequences. One result of this is seen when we consider the case of a programmer who was asked to write a program that would raise and lower a large x-ray device. The programmer wrote and tested his solution to this puzzle. It successfully and accurately moved the device from the top of the support pole to the top of the table. The difficulty with this narrow problem solving approach was shown when a X-ray technician told a patient to get off the table after a x-ray was taken and then the technician set the height of the device to "table-top-height." The patient had not heard the technician and was crushed under the machine. The programmer solved a puzzle but didn't consider the user.

Only in academe do students write programs that are designed to be thrown away or gather dust in the backs of their closets. In all other contexts, computing is a service industry. All computing artifacts are designed to be used. Computing has had a tendency not to see itself as a service industry. Even the term "user" carries with it a derogatory connotation. We are one of only two occupations that I know of whom call their customers "users." There is a recent example of this attitude before the courts. A defense contractor was asked to develop a portable anti-aircraft system. The system the contractor developed effectively destroys aircraft but it also occasionally kills the person who launched the missile. The company has declared that this is not a problem because they " are in full compliance with the specifications given to them by the user." Being a professional involves using one's special skills to give careful and constant consideration to the impact of the service on others. This consideration is guided by a set of ethical principles.

A MATTER OF EMPHASIS, PROFESSIONAL CONTEXTS - We have mistakenly understood computer ethics as different from other professional ethics. When we look at medical ethics, legal ethics, journalistic ethics, we have to distinguish the practitioners of those ethics from the ethical principles they affirm. The three professionals work in different contexts: medicine, law and journalism. However, when we talk of each of these professional ethics we do not consider them as three different kinds of ethics. The distinguishing characteristic among professional ethics is the context in which they are applied. Because there are three contexts, it does not follow that there are three distinct sets of ethical rules or three different kinds of moral reasoning.[10] Nor does it follow that computer ethics is another unique set of ethical principles that are yet to be discovered.

COMPUTER ETHICS - By analogy with other "ethics", "Computer ethics" can be divided into two spheres. The first is a set of ethical problems that can be reasoned about by analogy with most other traditional ethical abuses -- fraud, theft, trespassing, etc. But, this should not even be called COMPUTER ethics. Ethics for computing professionals is not another kind of ethics but it is ethical values, rules and judgements applied in a computing context based on professional standards and a concern for the user of the computing artifact. It is this sense of computer ethics that has received very little attention. Most of the attention has been directed at the results of the failures of professional ethics or abuses using a computer.

SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT - This understanding of computer ethics or ethics in a computing context also has some direct implications on the way to organize the domain of computer ethics. The starting point of computer ethics should be organized around the standards for the way software is developed. There are a prescribed series of steps called "the software development life cycle," which are followed by practicing computer scientists in the development of any piece of software. The discussion about computer ethics should be about how ethical rules apply at each of these steps. Organizing the material around the way software is developed, rather than organizing it around a limited set of application areas, makes the subject relevant to what the professional does in ANY application area e.g., banking, insurance, or word processing.

It is important for professional ethics to be responsive to change. This organization of computer ethics makes it responsive to change. As the way software is developed responds to changing technology, or as there are changes in the area in which the professional works; the focus of the discussion changes.

For example, when computers were developed there were a few programming languages which were all the same type. With the change in the technology of programming languages there has been a corresponding change in the application of professional values, such as cause no harm. In the design-phase of software development, the choice of a computer language for a life critical system might have moral implications. If the language is too hard to modify or understand then one puts people at risk and violates principles of good system design by choice of that language. This was not a major issue when there was only a single generation of programming languages.

The emphasis on professional ethics: is responsive to technological evolution, is not limited to selected application areas, and is consistent as a professional ethics[11]. VALUES?- What are the values of professional computer ethics and how are they determined? Even if professionalism is used as a guiding concept for understanding computer ethics, the problem remains to articulate a consistent and agreed upon set of values. When normative claims are made it is reasonable to ask about the source of authority for these claims. This question is distinct from the question "How does one correctly discover the normative claims themselves." There are at least three primary sources of normative claims; society as a whole, professions, and individuals. The claim that "War is wrong." is supported by the values of society that seeks to further the common good. The claim that "You should work hard" is supported by the agreement you made with your employer when you accepted a salary. The claim that you should keep your promises is supported by individual commitments to truth telling.

Some ethical conflicts arise when there are conflicting normative claims between domains. Conflicts also arise within a domain when we have conflicting moral claims with equivalent weight. One way in which we resolve these conflicts is by prioritizing ethical values within domains and basing our reasoning about ethical activity on these ordered values within a domain. The clarity of the ordering of the values within and between these domains determines in part how easy or difficult it is to resolve an ethical conflict. In the medical profession, the value placed on human life is greater than the value placed on preventing short term pain. In a situation where someone is choking, no one will question the decision to induce a gagging pain to save the person's life. The resolution of this value conflict is trivial because of the clear ordering of the 'pain prevention' value and the 'life preserving' value. This is moral reasoning.

Moral reasoning is sometimes portrayed as an esoteric subject which is incomprehensible to the ordinary human being only a non-normal human being (theologian or philosopher) is capable of moral reasoning. Moral reasoning is something we do every day when we make decisions about how to act based on the priority of moral rules. We hold values of preserving life and of being honest. We do not have a moral dilemma when we must lie in order to save a life. In this case, based on the priority of the respective values, it is ethical to lie in order to save a life.

There is real difficulty, however, when the ordering of values is not clear or they are given an equal value within the same domain. There are also problems when it is not clear which domain's value has the higher priority. In whistle blowing cases, for example, there is generally a conflict between loyalty to one's professional commitments and loyalty to one's employer. Another example of conflicts across domains occurs in the following. Suppose a child of a member of Jehovah's Witnesses will die if he is not given a blood transfusion. There is a conflict between a religiously founded normative belief against blood transfusion and the socially founded normative belief in the right to life. The courts have made decisions here that the right to life has a higher priority than the principle of respect for religious convictions. Ethical issues become easier to solve as we clarify what the values are and their priority. The ethical pluralism of today's society makes this very difficult when working across domains. This difficulty is sometimes used as a justification for the absurd claim that ethical problems cannot be resolved.

DISCOVERING THE STANDARDS - Thus far we have seen that computer ethics is like other professional ethics. The question remains, "How does one figure out the standards?" As we saw earlier, much of the literature is preoccupied with denying that there is any moral consensus. The theory for deriving agreed upon ethical standards which fits professionalism best is called the rational contractor theory. This theory is one of a group of "ideal observer theories," where the ideal observer gives the judgement a degree of objectivity. The rational contractor theory presumes that we can talk about a situation in which everyone can be gathered together at a meeting and that each person is made ignorant of their own special circumstances, those circumstances which might prejudice one's decisions. Imagine a situation where these people come together to determine the ethical rules. Because they are ignorant of their own circumstance they are unlikely to promulgate rules directed at special circumstances. They won't make rules that will hurt people over 50 years old, because they might be over 50 years of age. They will generate rules such as "cause no pain." This is a way of discovering ethical standards and it is well-suited for discovering standards within professions. There is significant evidence that there is a convergence of ethical standards for people at the same professional level. Research being done at Bowling Green State University by Leventhal, Instone and Chilson have shown empirical support for the application of this theory to computer ethics. Their work, unlike Parker's, was with a group with a homogeneous expertise in computer science. Their work shows an identifiable convergence of response, with only slight variations on some issues based on experience or gender differences.[12]

I have done surveys of my graduate students in software engineering classes and found a similar convergence. The primary difference in their orderings of values seems to be directly related to the course they are taking, e.g, the software design class puts a higher value on creativity than on leadership and the software project management class puts a higher value on leadership than on creativity.

The rational contractor theory is a model of the way standards are derived in professions. Professionals, either as individuals or as groups, set standards for all work done in that particular professional role. Within the context of the development of computing artifacts there is not only a convergence of opinion about professional standards but there is a convergence about those values that we use to direct our technical judgement.

THE COMPUTING PROFESSIONAL - What is involved in being a professional? When I present myself in the role of a computer professional to you, I say that I have the skill, the talent and the experience to do this job well and I say that I have the moral commitment to a set of moral values and a derivative commitment to a set of standards about software development. That is computer ethics. There is a commitment to the user. We would not call the physician who cut off both of the patient's arms a professional. Where was the judgement about the user's welfare? This judgement was lacking in the x-ray raising device program described above. Where was the consideration about the user? This was a problem in computer ethics. The programmer could have avoided this by asking his boss, "How is the program related to a safety switch." He could have designed the program so that it would at least pause, so that it could be determined that no one was still on the table, before going to "table-height."

There are standards for developing computing artifacts which, when tempered by professional values, are the domain of computer ethics. We can talk about the way in which we write code, the way in which we produce documentation as ethical issues. With this narrower focus on computer ethics we can provide some standards about the way computing is done. Let us look at some examples of applications of computer ethics.

Consider a case where someone builds a user interface for a color terminal. The programmer takes it upon herself to modify the system so it can determine whether users are color blind as they key in their names. This information is used by the system to present the best color combinations for the customer's particular visual limitation on the video display terminal. The marketing manager gets wind of this. He has the programmer's boss request that the programmer modify the interface to collect the names of those whom it discovers are color blind and forward the names to the marketing department. The programmer is smart enough to realize that there is a significant privacy issue here. What can the programmer do?

When I have used this example before there have been two typical responses. One response is to say they will modify the program as requested out of concern for their job; the other response is to say they will quit their job. These are seen as the only two alternatives. People have the mistaken notion that they must be moral heros when dealing with ethical issues. The fallacy of black and white reasoning is common in ethical discussion. The way it is manifested in ethical discussion is to assert that one either does the misdeed and by so doing endorses the immorality or votes with their briefcase and quits their job. There are several options that can be used to resolve this problem. If the privacy principle is more important than the commitment to truth telling, the programmer could say they made a mistake and the program doesn't really do what she had planned for it to do. The programmer could avoid the conflict between the privacy principle and the truth telling principle. She could raise questions about how the customers might react if they knew this information was being secretly collected on them. Solutions to this case do not require one to be a moral hero and quit their job to be ethical.

This case is interesting because it involves good intentions, but the implementation of those intentions led to an ethical situation. Although the above discussion is interesting, we have not yet touched on the issue of professional ethics. This situation only came about because the programmer was not thinking about the privacy rights of the user when she designed the system, a failure of professional ethics.

THE NON-PROFESSIONAL - We have seen a consistent approach to computer ethics, which avoids many difficulties with other approaches. With this understanding there is one remaining concern. Where does this leave the non-professional? How can we talk about computer ethics for the non-professional? The professional physician sets the standards for practicing medicine. The physician will use an antiseptic to avoid infection before bandaging a wound. A non-physician who knows this standard would act unethically if they chose not to use the antiseptic. The professional develops the standards for a particular context, and adherence to these standards become our guide for moral action.

CONCLUSION - Computer ethics, as presented here, is modeled on other professional ethics. It can use moral reasoning models that are similar to those in other professional ethics. The theory of computer ethics we have presented does not rule out the examination of critical concerns like the impact of technology on the nature of work or computer fraud. The theory puts these concerns in other ethical categories. The former is a concern of sociology and the latter is a concern of property rights.

Computer practitioners do not have a single representative organization which can control membership in the profession; there is no representative organization to impose sanctions for the violations of professional behavior. The absence of a single organization does not impede the development of professional ethics standards. The focus of this approach to computer ethics is on the individual professional's responsibility in the practice of his craft. As the standards of this craft are being developed, so are the standards of professional computer ethics. The judgements about these standards will be guided by the values of the professional.

Computer ethics as presented here gives a clear description of the relation of values to the work of the computer professional and sets forth criteria for making ethical decisions in that process. The focus on stories about the failures of the product has misdirected us. They may be interesting stories to listen to, but they convey little information about computer ethics. I maintain that a focus on the process will resolve many of the problems discussed at the beginning of this paper. This approach will lead to the development of better computing artifacts.


[1- Washington DC September 16, 1990]

[2- Donn B. Parker, Ethical Conflicts in Computer Science and Technology, AFIPS Press, no date but based on meetings in 1977]

[3- Donn Parker,"Ethical Dilemmas in Computer Technology," in Ethics and the Management of Computer Technology, edited by W. Michael Hoffman and J.M. Moore, Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain 1982, p. 54]

[4- Donn B. Parker, Ethical Conflicts in Information and Computer Science, Technology, and Business, QED Information Sciences, Inc. 1990]

[5- James Moor, "What is Computer Ethics? ," in Computers and Ethics, Terrel Ward Bynum ed.; Basil Blackwell, 1985 p 272]

[6 Richard H. Austing, Lillian Cassel, Computers in Focus, Brooks-Cole 1986, pp. 268ff]

[7 Tom Forester, Perry Morrison; Computer Ethics, MIT Press 1990 p.4]

[8 - Michael Baylis, Professional Ethics, Wadsworth 1981]

[9 - Deborah Johnson, Computer Ethics, Prentice Hall, 1985]

[10 - This position should not be confused with ethical relativism. I am not maintaining that there are no ethical truths, but that the contexts effects the ordering of these rules. See [8] pages 5 and following for a similar view about contexts and professional ethics.]

[11 - Donald Gotterbarn,"A Workshop Report: Software Engineering Ethics," The Journal of Systems and Software, v 11, 1990 ]

[12- Leventhal, Instone and Chilson,"Another View of Computer Science Ethics: Patterns of responses among computer scientists," Journal of Systems and Software, edited by D. Gotterbarn, January 1992]

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