Ethics in Information Technology Essay

Pages: 6 (2011 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Education - Computers

James Moor: What Is Computer Ethics

Given how new the field of computing is, it is no surprise to find that the field of computer ethics is still evolving. Issues that were mainly theoretical at the beginning of the computer revolution have become issues with which most people in the world's industrialized nations must grapple on a daily basis. What is interesting to see is how Moor anticipated these ethical issues, despite the fact that computing was a relatively new field at the time he wrote the article. He described some of the major issues facing computer users and gave his opinion about how those issues might continue to develop unless they were addressed. Though an evolving field, computer ethics is still plagued by many of the issue Moor noted a quarter of a century ago. This means that, not only was Moor able to identify ethical dilemmas related to computers at the start of the Computer Revolution, but also to identify those issues that would be the most difficult to solve and would seem almost inherent in computer usage.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Essay on Ethics in Information Technology Assignment

One of the things that Moor noticed in 1985 was a policy vacuum. By this, he meant that there was no consensus about how computers should be used. Furthermore, different groups of people, even those without criminal or obviously immoral intent, might have different viewpoints regarding the appropriate use of computers. Further complicating the issue is the fact that each time computers present new capabilities to their human users, those capabilities have attached ethical issues. This is an issue that has only grown in magnitude since Moor wrote his article. The internet connects people in ways that were barely imaginable at that time, and what people can do with computer applications goes far beyond what people should do with computer applications. At this point, there are some social policies that prohibit certain ethically questionable behaviors, but detection is still a difficult issue, leaving it to most individuals to determine for themselves what constitutes an ethical use of computer technology. A recent policy vacuum was how to handle internet gambling sites, when gambling was illegal in some, but not all, states, and the sites were organized off-shore. The policy vacuum has been filled by prohibition of online gambling for cash. However, the personal vacuum still exists, because it remains very easy for people to gamble online with very little concern about detection for the average user. Another example is that the internet has greatly facilitated the trade in child pornography. The criminal justice system has done a good job criminalizing online transmission of child pornography, but the vast resources of the internet make it virtually impossible to detect and punish them. Furthermore, that trade is one that actively harms its victims, and which is unlikely to be self-regulated in any fashion. More stringent public policies, which would hamper information transfer in other areas, might be the only effective social policy to ending the trade in child pornography.

In addition to having a policy vacuum, there can be a conceptual problem as well. In fact, conceptual problems can be much more difficult to understand than policy problems. According to Moor, a coherent conceptual framework is necessary in order to provide the policies that are needed when there is a policy gap. Computer-related issues create conceptual frameworks because there is a wide range of ways to view computer issues. For example, are computer programs subject to copyright or patent protection? Determining the conceptual framework helps determine the solution to the underlying problems. Dr. Moor does not explicitly state that the conceptual vacuum comes first, but it does. This makes sense. Almost all of social policy has developed over hundreds of years before anything akin to computing was possible. Even those social policies developed in the wake of the Industrial Revolution could not have anticipated the rise of the computer. Therefore, while the policy vacuum may be apparent first, the conceptual vacuum exists as soon as a new technology is possible. One example of the conceptual vacuum that exists today is how to treat freeware software applications that are modified as end users- can an individual have a property interest in something that was based on freeware? Another example of the conceptual vacuum is how to treat internet communications; should they be treated like telecommunication, like other forms of written communication, or like a unique form of communication?

The vacuums exist in part because of the logical malleability of computers. Computers can be shaped and molded to do virtually any activity that is based on logical operations. What this means is that computers can seem to simulate even activities that do not appear to be based on logic. The best modern example of this is the IBM computer defeating the two Jeopardy champs in their contests. The computer was able to use the words in the question to search for the most likely answer. However, what the computer could not do, because of its logic limitations, was to determine if an answer sounded right. Though the computer was rarely wrong, when it was wrong, the answers were sometimes extremely amusing. That is a wonderful example of logical malleability. However, the most interesting function is that same computer, which was programmed to be able to play a trivia game, could be programmed to do something else entirely.

Dr. Moor seems to think that this logical malleability is what forms the basis of the Computer Revolution, because computers are able to do such a wide variety of things. He also thinks that the Computer Revolution is very similar to the English Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution was significant because industrial technology was unlike any innovation that had come before it, ushering in an era of social change unlike any the world had ever seen. The Computer Revolution has done the same thing. The most significant change is that the world is truly global, and the information share that is possible is simply unprecedented. While people had some access to global news for most of the 20th century, so much of this was filtered news, but now, with individuals able to contribute to the global conversation, the information exchange is incredible. Computers are affordable, abundant, and involved in virtually every aspect of society. In fact, it is that computers are involved in almost every aspect of life, and are logically malleable enough to fit other aspects of life, that makes them revolutionary. The Computer Revolution is complete in the same way that the Industrial Revolution is complete; computers already pervade almost every area of life. However, just as changes continue to occur in the same areas that enabled the industrial revolution, one can expect continued changes in the computer revolution. Take, for example, the rapidly evolving mobile telephone market. Cellular phones are no longer for talking, but communications platforms. Even if cell phones get significantly smaller, they are already so connected that it is difficult to imagine any changes that would alter their capabilities beyond the smartest phones of today. Another example is the fact that no computers can have emotion, simply logic. The development of true artificial intelligence, like HAL in 2010, would signal the beginning of a different revolution, because it would, once again, change the playing field.

Dr. Moor's emphasis on ethics is interesting, especially because the invisible nature of the computing process can be ethically difficult. Dr. Moor sees three areas where invisibility has ethical implications. The first scenario is invisible abuse, which means the intentional use of invisible operations to engage unethical conduct. This can be theft or invasion of privacy. Dr. Moor also has concerns about invisible programming values; programmers make value judgments which can impact the end-user. Finally, Moor is concerned about invisible, complex calculations, where computers perform calculations that are beyond the understanding of most individuals. The first two issues are not really about the ethical significance of computer invisibility because they are reflections of ethical issues that occurred prior to the Computer Revolution; computers simply made them more likely to occur. However, the issue of invisible complexity is an important one. Dr. Moor's example about using computers to help determine when to launch nuclear weapons is a critically important one that remains relevant. A human being could not engage in the same calculations, meaning that the end of the human race could potentially be based on a set of difficult to comprehend calculations. Moreover, the combination between different types of invisibility may be ethically critical. In the nuclear example, a country's calculations about the use of nuclear weapons are obviously going to value people from that country more than lives in other countries, or else no country would ever be justified in the use of nuclear weapons, but that is an invisible value judgment in the program. Moreover, while invasion of privacy occurred before computers, the easy availability of private information is troubling. Many people do not realize that there are websites like Zabasearch, which could easily aid… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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