On January 23 the ACM Learning Center was conducting a webinar titled “Computing Professionalism: Do Good and Avoid Evil”. It was presented by Don Gotterbarn, Director of the Software Engineering Ethics Research Institute and Chair of the ACM Committee on Professional Ethics. I’ve registered for this webinar, but then standard release happened to be on Thursday instead of Wednesday, I was not able to participate in real-time. However, the webinar was still available as a podcast, and I’ve listened to it the next day.
I found it incredibly interesting, and I am going to suggest to my squad to set up some time and watch it together. Here I am going to give a short summary of what it was about.
There are three levels of Ethics. First, it’s a Civil ethic, common to all people. Then, there is a Professional Ethic, common to all professional – since they have more knowledge in their areas of expertise, they bare more responsibilities to protect non-professional from harm. And the for computing professional there is a Computing Professional Ethic.
Computing professional may do unethical things due to a number of reasons – first, there are actual criminals, who can commit crimes using their professional knowledge, and there are laws for that. Second, people may do something unethical due to the lack of professionalism (do not have enough knowledge), and that’s why many states what to establish certification processes for computing professionals. Third – there are people who just do not care and not bother to think about the consequences of their actions.
Each computing professional should make sure (s)he acts in a professionally ethical way. The ACM Code of Ethics provides very detailed guidelines of what constitutes the professional conduct, and what are our responsibilities. I encourage everybody who consider themselves computing professionals to read it….
The presentation covers several development patters which seem to be purely technical, but may result in poor ethical choices, but I am not going to copy the whole presentation here :).
One thing I found particularly interesting, was a concept of reframing. Here is an example, which illustrates it. The city starts recycling program because of ethical considerations (it’s good to recycle). Then turns out, recycling is profitable, and it’s even better. But in a couple of years recycling becomes not profitable. By that time the frame changes, and the city cancels the program (business frame goals suppress the ethic frame goals)
There are many other interesting things in this presentation, especially when they talk about how we can decide, what is/will be ethical. So if you are an ACM member, and didn’t see this podcast yet – please do so, and please show it to your fellow co-workers.