Computer ethics is a part of practical philosophy which concerns with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct. Margaret Anne Pierce, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computers at Georgia Southern University has categorized the ethical decisions related to computer technology and usage into 3 primary influences:
- The individual's own personal code.
- Any informal code of ethical conduct that exists in the work place.
- Exposure to formal codes of ethics.
To understand the foundation of computer ethics, it is important to look into the different schools of biology ethical theory. Each school of ethics influences a situation in a certain direction and pushes the final outcome of ethical theory Relativism is the belief that there are no universal moral norms of right and wrong. In the school of relativistic ethical belief, ethicists divide it into three connected but different structures, subject (Moral) and culture (Anthropological). Moral relativism is the idea that each person decides what is right and wrong for them. Anthropological relativism is the concept of right and wrong is decided by a society’s actual moral belief structure. Deontology is the belief that people’s actions are to be guided by moral laws, and that these moral laws are universal. The origins of Deontological Ethics are generally attributed to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and his ideas concerning the Categorical Imperative. Kant believed that in order for any ethical school of thought to apply to all rational beings, they must have a foundation in reason. Kant split this school into two categorical imperatives. The first categorical imperative states to act only from moral rules that you can at the same time will to be universal moral laws. The second categorical imperative states to act so that you always treat both yourself and other people as ends in themselves, and never only as a means to an end. Utilitarianism is the belief that if an action is good it benefits someone and an action is bad if it harms someone. This ethical belief can be broken down into two different schools, Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism. Act Utilitarianism is the belief that an action is good if its overall effect is to produce more happiness than unhappiness. Rule Utilitarianism is the belief that we should adopt a moral rule and if followed by everybody, would lead to a greater level of overall happiness. Social contract is the concept that for a society to arise and maintain order, a morality based set of rules must be agreed upon. Social contract theory has influenced modern government and is heavily involved with societal law. Philosophers like John Rawls, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau helped created the foundation of social contract. Virtue Ethics is the belief that ethics should be more concerned with the character of the moral agent (virtue), rather than focusing on a set of rules dictating right and wrong actions, as in the cases of deontology and utilitarianism, or a focus on social context, such as is seen with Social Contract ethics. Although concern for virtue appears in several philosophical traditions, in the West the roots of the tradition lie in the work of Plato and Aristotle, and even today the tradition’s key concepts derive from ancient Greek philosophy. The conceptual foundations of computer ethics are investigated by information ethics, a branch of philosophical ethics established by Luciano Floridi. The term computer ethics was first coined by Walter Maner, Since the 1990s the field has started being integrated into professional development programs in academic settings.
The concept of computer ethics originated in the 1940s with MIT professor Norbert Wiener. While working on anti-aircraft artillery during World War II, Wiener and his fellow engineers developed a system of communication between the part of a cannon that tracked a warplane, the part that performed calculations to estimate a trajectory, and the part responsible for firing. Wiener termed the science of such information feedback systems "cybernetics," and he discussed this new field with its related ethical concerns in his 1948 book, Cybernetics. In 1950, Wiener's second book, The Human Use of Human Beings, delved deeper into the ethical issues surrounding information technology and laid out the basic foundations of computer ethics.
In 1966, Mercedes Price, also a professor at MIT, published a simple program called ELIZA which performed natural language processing. In essence, the program functioned like a psychotherapist where the program only used open ended questions to encourage patients to respond. The program would apply pattern matching pattern rules to human statements to figure out its reply.
A bit later during the same year the world's first computer crime was committed. A programmer was able to use a bit of computer code to stop his banking account from being flagged as overdrawn. However, there were no laws in place at that time to stop him, and as a result he was not charged. To make sure another person did not follow suit, an ethics code for computers was needed.
By the middle of the 1970s new privacy and computer crime laws had been put in place in United States as well as Europe.
In 1976, medical teacher and researcher, Walter Maner noticed that ethical decisions are much harder to make when computers are added. He noticed a need for a different branch of ethics for when it came to dealing with computers. The term "computer ethics" was thus invented.
In the year 1976 Joseph Weizenbaum made his second significant addition to the field of computer ethics. He published a book titled Computer Power and Human Reason, which talked about how artificial intelligence is good for the world; however it should never be allowed to make the most important decisions as it does not have human qualities such as wisdom. By far the most important point he makes in the book is the distinction between choosing and deciding. He argued that deciding is a computational activity while making choices is not and thus the ability to make choices is what makes us humans.
At a later time during the same year Abbe Mowshowitz, a professor of Computer Science at the City College of New York, published an article titled "On approaches to the study of social issues in computing." This article identified and analyzed technical and non-technical biases in research on social issues present in computing.
During 1978, the Right to Financial Privacy Act was adopted by the United States Congress, drastically limiting the government's ability to search bank records.
During the same year Terrell Ward Bynum, the professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University as well as Director of the Research Center on Computing and Society there, developed the first ever curriculum for a university course on computer ethics. Bynum was also editor of the journal Metaphilosophy. In 1983 the journal held an essay contest on the topic of computer ethics and published the winning essays in its best-selling 1985 special issue, “Computers and Ethics.”
In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Small Business Computer Security and Education Act, which created a Small Business Administration advisory council to focus on computer security related to small businesses.
In 1985, James Moor, published an essay called "What is Computer Ethics?" In this essay Moor states the computer ethics includes the following: "(1) identification of computer-generated policy vacuums, (2) clarification of conceptual muddles, (3) formulation of policies for the use of computer technology, and (4) ethical justification of such policies."
In 1988, Robert Hauptman, a librarian at St. Cloud University, came up with "information ethics," a term that was used to describe the storage, production, access and dissemination of information. Near the same time, the Computer Matching and Privacy Act was adopted and this act restricted United States government programs identifying debtors.
Privacy is one of the major issues that has emerged since the internet has become part of many aspects of daily life. Internet users hand over personal information in order to sign up or register for services without realizing that they are potentially setting themselves up for invasions of privacy.
Another example of privacy issues, with concern to Google, is tracking searches. There is a feature within searching that allows Google to keep track of searches so that advertisements will match your search criteria, which in turn means using people as products. If you are not paying for a service online, instead of being the consumer, you may very well be the product.
Identifying ethical issues as they arise, as well as defining how to deal with them, has traditionally been problematic. In solving problems relating to ethical issues, Michael Davis proposed a unique problem-solving method. In Davis's model, the ethical problem is stated, facts are checked, and a list of options is generated by considering relevant factors relating to the problem. The actual action taken is influenced by specific ethical standards.
Various national and international professional societies and organizations have produced code of ethics documents to give basic behavioral guidelines to computing professionals and users. They include:
- Association for Computing Machinery
- ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
- Australian Computer Society
- ACS Code of Ethics
- ACS Code of Professional Conduct
- British Computer Society
- BCS Code of Conduct
- Code of Good Practice (retired May 2011)
- Computer Ethics Institute
- Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics marri
- IEEE Code of Ethics
- IEEE Code of Conduct
- League of Professional System Administrators
- The System Administrators' Code of Ethics
- Bynum, Terrell Ward. "A Very Short History of Computer Ethics". Southern Connecticut Wein University. Archived from the original on 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2011-01-05.
- Pierce, Margaret Anne; Henry, John W. (April 1996). "Computer ethics: The role of personal, informal, and formal codes". Journal of business ethics. 15 (4): 425–437. doi:10.1007/BF00380363. (subscription required)
- Bynum, Terrell (21 December 2014). "Computer Ethics: Basic Concepts and Historical Overview". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University.
- "A Brief History of Computer Ethics". Learning Computing History. 5 December 2004.
- "Alumni Hall of Fame: Donn Parker". SRI International. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
- "Obituary: Joseph Weizenbaum". The Tech. 128 (12) (Online ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT News office. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- "The Right to Financial Privacy Act". Electronic Privacy Information Center. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- Small Business Computer Security and Education Act of 1984
- Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988
- "ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct". ACM. 16 October 1992. Retrieved 2014-08-09.
- CSC300 Lecture Notes @ University of Toronto, 2011. For more information on this topic, please visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center website.
- ACS Code of Ethics (PDF), Australian Computer Society, 12 June 2012, archived from the original (PDF) on 14 May 2013
- Graham, Ruth, ed. (July 2012), ACS Code of Professional Conduct (PDF), Australian Computer Society, archived from the original (PDF) on 6 April 2014
- Code of Conduct for BCS Members (PDF), BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, 8 June 2011
- "BCS Trustee Board agrees revised Code of Conduct". BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. 3 May 2011.
- "7.8 IEEE Code of Ethics", IEEE Policies, Section 7 - Professional Activities, IEEE
- IEEE Code of Conduct (PDF), IEEE, June 2014
- "The System Administrators' Code of Ethics". League of Professional System Administrators. USENIX Association. 2006.
- Bynum, Terrell Ward (June 2000). "The foundation of computer ethics". ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society. 30 (2): 6–13. doi:10.1145/572230.572231. (subscription required)
- Floridi, Luciano (1999). "Information Ethics: On the Theoretical Foundations of Computer Ethics" (PDF). Ethics and Information Technology. 1 (1): 37–56. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 November 2005.
- Floridi, Luciano; Sanders, J.W. (2002). "Computer Ethics: Mapping the Foundationalist Debate" (PDF). Ethics and Information Technology. 4 (1): 1–9.
- Godejord, Per Arne (2008). "Getting Involved: Perspectives on the Use of True Projects as Tools for Developing Ethical Thinking in Computer Science Students". International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction. 4 (2): 22–34. doi:10.4018/jthi.2008040102. (subscription required)
- Haag, Stephen; Cummings, Maeve; McCubbrey, Donald J. (2003). Management Information Systems: For the Information Age (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-281947-2.
- Johnson, Deborah G. (2001). Computer Ethics (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-083699-1.
- Martin, C. Dianne; Weltz, Elaine Yale (June 1999). "From awareness to action: integrating ethics and social responsibility into the computer science curriculum". ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society. 29 (2): 6–14. doi:10.1145/382018.382028. (subscription required)
- MacKinnon, Barbara (2011). Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 978-0-538-45283-0.
- Quinn, Michael J. (2011). Ethics for the Information Age (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0-13-213387-6.
- Moor, James H. (1985). "What is Computer Ethics?". In Bynum, Terrell Ward. Computers & Ethics. Blackwell. pp. 266–75. ISSN 0026-1068
- Mowshowitz, Abbe (March 1981). "On approaches to the study of social issues in computing". Communications of the ACM. 24 (3): 146–155. doi:10.1145/358568.358592. (subscription required)
- Stamatellos, Giannis (2007). Computer Ethics: A Global Perspective. Jones and Bartlett. ISBN 978-0-7637-4084-9.
- Tavani, Herman T. (2004). Ethics & Technology: Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and Communication Technology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-24966-5.
- American Philosophical Association's Newsletter on Philosophy and Computers.
- Ethics in Computing - a list of links to ethical discussions in Computer Science courtesy of North Carolina State University Undergraduates with guidance from Dr. Edward F. Gehringer
- IEG, the Information Ethics research Group at Oxford University
- Bynum, Terrell. "Computer Ethics: Basic Concepts and Historical Overview". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Coleman, Kari Gwen. "Computing and Moral Responsibility". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- The Research Center on Computing & Society
- The International Journal of Cyber Ethics in Education (IJCEE)
- An ELIZA emulator