• Introduction

    In this module you will learn about a range of issues that are important to Computing professionals. These are issues that you need to be aware of in your future career. You will also need to consider, later in the module, which issues may apply to the topic which you choose for your project proposal.

    This week we will look at the following:
    An Introduction to Professional Issues
    Social, ethical and legal impact of Computing
    Ethics and ethical theories

  • An Introduction to ‘Professional Issues’

    The wider term of Professional Issues covers:
    How the IT professional procures and develops computer systems
    The professional development skills and techniques used
    How the IT professional interact with peers and clients in this procurement/development
    The “broader” “societal” issues which arise as a consequence of the application and use of computing in “everyday” life.

    This module tends to concentrate on the last of these points, as the others will be covered in a range of other modules.

    In this module we consider Professional Issues to be the study of Social, Ethical and Legal issues in Computing

    Social: the application and use of computing had given us many social changes in recent years.
    Ethical: a lot of this use has an ethical impact, i.e. It effects (for good or bad) some people: either specific individuals, specific groups, or the wider public.
    Legal: some of these effects are detrimental and need to be counter acted

    It is really these three threads which our study of any professional issues topic has to be guided by
    Useful video 1: 📹 Computer Ethics - Online Privacy
    Useful video 2: 🔗 BBC law and ethic
  • Social Impact of Computer and Computing

    Essentially by “social impact” we mean: how has the way society functions changed due to this application/use of computing technology:
    in terms of a new phenomenon which did not exist before
    or how an old phenomenon has been affected by the new technology

    Social Media applications

    Ethical Impact of Computers and Computing

    An ethical situation is where an action causes a consequence which affects a human being (technically it is a “living thing” but we will restrict ourselves to thinking about humans in this module).
    A consequence could be both good and bad

    Case study
    What are some of the consequences of Social Media applications such as twitter?

    Some of the consequences of Twitter
    Enables friends and relatives from far and wide to keep in touch
    Allows individuals with common interests to interact and provide support

    Social media rage and abuse
    Possible “grooming” of minors
    Exposure of personal/private information

    Other consequences:
    Used by businesses and advertising (is this positive or negative?)

    Legal Issues of Computer and Computing

    In this module we will take a wider view of “legal issues”, i.e. if an ethical issue is negative:
    How can those (potentially) impacted be “protected”?
    Are there technical measures which could be used/help?
    Could better regulation by organisations help/provide a solution?
    Is there a place for legislation?
    Is existing legislation adequate?
    Is proposed legislation likely to be effective?

    Thus for this module, it is this level of intellectual coverage for Social, Ethical and “Legal” issues for a very specific aspect of a wider topic which you are being asked to discuss and analyse.
  • Ethics and Ethical theories

    What is Ethics?

    An area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behaviour: a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong.

    [From: 🔗 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic]

    Our definition: Ethics is the philosophical study of morality
    It is about “right or wrong” and how people should behave in situations.

    Morality, or Moral Philosophy, refers to the concept of human ethics used within three contexts:
    individual conscience
    systems of principles and judgments shared within a culture or community
    codes of behaviour or conduct morality.

    An Ethical Situation is where a “living thing may be adversely affected”

    Thus in Computing an ethical situation would be where the use/application of computing technology or the actions of a computing professional does, or could potentially, adversely affect someone.

    How do you decide if you are acting “right” or “wrong”? Consider the following examples of "software disasters" that had a direct impact on people. Read the articles and for each one consider the questions that follow:

    🔗 False Arrests due to data accuracy errors in Alameda County
    🔗 Denver Automated Baggage Handling Facility
    🔗 Therac 25 radiation therapy machine
    🔗 London Ambulance System

    The consequences of the software disasters made it easy to identify the right thing to do?

    1. Did anyone/organisation do wrong?
    2. What was the intention behind each action?
    3. Who benefited from the actions? – positive effect
    4. Who suffered from the actions? – negative effect
    5. Could the goal have been achieved by other means?

    The questions asked about the scenarios illustrate key issues in considering ethical theories:
    a) Identifying “acceptable” (and thus ethical) rules which should be followed (Q1 & Q2)
    b) Considering the consequences of actions (Q3 & Q4)
    c) Looking at possible alternatives when making an ethical choice (Q5)

    Ethical Theories are characterised in their use of either a) or b) when considering c), i.e. Either:

    Identifying “Universal”/“Acceptable” rules which can always be applied


    Weighing up the “benefits/dis-benefits” to the different parties involved which result from the actions

    Two distinct approaches to the development of Ethical Theories:

    Deontological Theories - Theories based on rules
    e.g. Kant’s Theory

    Consequentialist Theories - Theories based on consequences of actions
    Act Utilitarianism
    Rule Utilitarianism
  • Kantianism

    German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724- 1804)

    Based upon the Categorical Imperative

    An action is ethical if one is happy for everyone to behave in that way
    i.e. try to “universalise the rule”, when deciding about an action think how you would feel if you were on the “other side” of that action
    Thus to evaluate a rule/action, try to universalise it, i.e. What would happen if everyone followed the rule.

    Kantianism’s rules are absolute/inflexible
    No exceptions
    No clear way of resolving rule conflicts

    Example - is Lying for the Greater Good Ethical? For example, this is the dilemma offered by Immanuel Kant:

    Someone running by with a weapon asks you if you have seen someone running away just minutes ago and in what direction they were heading. Telling the truth might result in death or severe injury while lying may save a life.
  • Utilitarianism

    Utilitarianism is based on the Principle of Utility:
    An action is right or wrong to the extent by which it increases (or decreases) the total “happiness” of the affected parties
    Act Utilitarianism focuses on the act, i.e.
    A specific act is good if it increases the overall “happiness” across the community of affected beings
    Rule Utilitarianism focuses on rules: i.e.
    The universal adoption of a rule would generally result in “greater happiness”

    But how do you apply it? – how do you balance the happiness of some against the unhappiness of others? For example, could it be argued that software piracy is okay under this approach because millions of downloaders will have increased happiness whilst only a few will suffer detriment?

    To balance overall utility you need to prioritise/grade/measure happiness in equivalent terms. Several weighting attributes should be considered in judgements, including:
    Intensity: magnitude of the experience
    Duration: how long the experience lasts
    Purity: extent to which pleasure is not diluted by pain, or vice versa
    Extent: number of people affected

    It is difficult to determine (and quantify) all of the consequences of a single act
    It tends to focus on groups and not on any inherent rights of the individual
  • Considerations for coursework

    Key lesson with both theories is that they provide:
    a framework to reason about ethical scenarios and
    a potential rationale for decisions

    For coursework 1: Some of the principles /concepts from these frameworks could be used in the line of argument you present when you are discussing relevant aspects of your topic, e.g.:
    What must society/government provide to protect us?
    Do their suggested actions/laws have a reasonable rationale?
    Are these proportionate in terms of +ve/-ve consequences?
    How proportionate has the actions of relevant organisations being in trying to deal with the issue?
    What responsibilities does the individual have?