Computer Ethics (4th Edition)
When I first began thinking and writing about computer ethics, I often found myself taking on the role of someone who counters hype. At the time, there seemed to be a good deal of hype about how computers were going to revolutionize the world. Of course, there were some thoughtful treatments of the potential of computers to transform the world as we know it and some intriguing and deep accounts of the social changes that seemed to be underway. My job—so it seemed—was to sort out the hype from the serious analyses. One of my strategies was to identify and emphasize that which remained the same—aspects of society that were unaffected or being reinforced and solidified. As I reflect back on that time and what has happened since, it does seem that some pretty dramatic changes have occurred. And the challenge of sorting out the significant changes from those that are superficial is all the more daunting. Changes of many different kinds have occurred and these changes have been influenced by many factors, only one of which is the development and widespread use of computers, information technology, and the Internet. As argued in Chapter 1, we should be careful not to think that the forces of change have been in only one direction. Computers and information technology have shaped the world of today but social, political, economic, and cultural conditions have also shaped the development of computers, information technology, and the Internet. This edition of Computer Ethics attempts to take into account the complex, multidirectional relationship between technology and society.
Computers and information technology are now so fundamental to the information societies that many of us live in, that the exercise of trying to identify a domain of life in which information technology does not play a role is both enlightening and challenging. We tried with this new edition to rethink the field of computer ethics so as to capture the powerful role that computers and information technology now play in so many aspects of everyday life. However, because the field is now so broad, tough choices had to be made, choices about what to include and what to leave out. In the end, we developed a structure that, we believe, serves as a framework for addressing an array of issues, some of which we have addressed extensively, others we have treated in a cursory fashion, and yet others we have not even mentioned.
The 4th edition contains several important new features. Perhaps most importantly, this edition includes the voice of Keith Miller. Keith and I met when he first began teaching a course on computer ethics over twenty years ago. As one of the first computer scientists to take on the responsibilities of such a course, Keith is a pioneer and veteran of the field. He brought his knowledge and experience to each chapter of the book. Working together was an enormous boon for this edition. Whether we agreed or disagreed on a particular issue—and we did disagree—we worked through the presentation of material together. At times it seemed that Keith was protecting the interests of computer science students and teachers, and I was concerned about accessibility to the less technically sophisticated readers. We believe we have achieved a good balance.
As we began working on this edition, we were confronted with a complicated question about terminology. Although the field continues to be called “computer ethics,” the attention of computer ethicists has expanded to include a much broader range of technologies more often now referred to as information technology. We debated whether to consider our focus to be that of information and communication technologies and use the acronym ITC, or computers and information technology and use CIT; we tried other alternatives as well. In the end we came to a complicated decision. Because Chapter 1 focuses on the field and its goals, methods, and mission, we stayed with the term “computer ethics” for that chapter. After Chapter 1 and throughout the rest of the book, we use the phrase “information technology’ or the acronym “IT.” Finally, we added a new subtitle to the title of the book to reflect the broader scope of the book and the field.
This edition includes a new theoretical approach. We have incorporated concepts and insights from the field of science and technology studies (STS). STS theories frame technology as sociotechnical systems and this, in turn, brings the connection between ethics and technology into sharper perspective. The new approach is explained in Chapter 1.
As in earlier editions, all but one of the chapters begin with a set of scenarios designed to draw readers into the chapter topic. The scenarios present the issues in what we hope is an engaging and practical form. The scenarios illustrate the significance of the broader, more abstract matters addressed in the chapter. With a few exceptions, the scenarios are new and many of them are real cases. In our selection of scenario topics we have been mindful of the experiences of college-age students.
For those familiar with the 3rd edition, an explanation of the new organization may be helpful. As in the 3rd edition, there are separate chapters on ethical concepts and theories, privacy, property rights, and professional ethics. As before, the introductory chapter discusses the scope of the field. However, in this edition we have moved somewhat away from theorizing about the uniqueness of computer ethical issues and have, instead, framed the issues as part of a broader enterprise of understanding the connections between ethics and technology. As mentioned above, the introductory chapter also introduces important new ideas from STS. Chapters 3 and 6 represent a significant reorganization of material. Each of these chapters combines material from the 3rd edition with entirely new material. The overarching theme in Chapter 3 is that information societies are constituted with, and configured around, information technology, and this means that ethical issues have distinctive characteristics. The overarching theme of Chapter 6 is what we call “digital order.” The chapter focuses on several different issues that affect activities on the Internet. Order, we emphasize, is created by law, markets, social norms, and architecture. The chapter on professional ethics has been moved to the end of the book. Computer science students may well want to read this chapter early on, but it no longer serves as the motivation for subsequent chapters.
As the book goes to press, we have plans for a website to supplement the material presented in the book. The website will include additional scenarios, podcast discussions, links to other sites, and more. It should be available and easy to find by the time the book is published.
Deborah G. Johnson
June 16, 2008
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