Must computer science students learn about ethics?

My textbook — Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives — may be used in a variety of courses and contexts, but is intended primarily for use by Computer Science (CS) Departments, as they attempt to educate and train tomorrow’s software professionals, managers, and IT leaders. If we want to monitor how well departments are doing this job, we should ask is if they are sensitizing their students to the ethical responsibilities of the profession. It is useful to contrast the attitudes and performance of CS Departments, typically situated in science faculties, with departments in Faculties of Engineering.

Concern over ethics in Engineering began after several major disasters late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century, notably several bridge failures and the Boston molasses disaster, in which a flood or molasses wreaked havoc on nearby building and train systems.  There already had been created professional societies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.  These societies then moved quickly to introduce Codes of Ethics and requirements for licensing and accreditation, which ultimately caused university departments and faculties to include some learning about and practice with ethical concerns as part of their curricula.  A later development was the creation in 1954 by the National Society of Professional Engineers of a Board of Ethical Review.

Read More »

Deep fakes for manipulating elections

People generally agree that the Russians have for at least three years been election hacking, notably in the US 2016 presidential election, but also in other parts of the world, as well as in important votes such as the UK referendum on Brexit.  What happened in the US election was substantiated as early as in a January 2017 by a report from US intelligence agencies, and as recently as March 2019 by the Mueller Report.  These reports, and the landmark 2018 book Cyberwar by Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, assert convincingly that this interference did in fact help to elect Donald Trump.

Read More »

Personal space in the age of addictive technology

Approximately two months ago, I had brunch with a friend and colleague — Fred, not his real name — who I had known for over 40 years.  I had not seen him in six months.  Over the space of an hour, he received at least six calls on his cell phone from family members.  Based on what I could hear of his responses, no interruption dealt with an urgent matter.

Several times a year, I have dinner with dear friends of over 30 years, a vigorous professional couple in their 70s with accomplishments in the arts, the sciences, and public service.  Ann — also not her real name — is constantly using her phone to google for facts that will contribute to the conversation.  Her fact-checking is typically interesting, but is there a cost?

Read More »

Disruption and societal responsibility

In April 2019, I took a limo to Toronto’s international airport at the close of a workday.  I live near the downtown hockey arena, where the city’s beloved Maple Leafs were about to start game 4 in a Stanley Cup hockey elimination round.  These two factors as well as mandated detours slowed traffic significantly.  I was feeling social, so asked the driver about the effects of Uber on his livelihood.  Did I get an earful!

Read More »