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Andreessen's Corollary: Ethical Dilemmas in Software Engineering

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Talk given at #CraftConf in Budapest in 2019. Video coming soon!

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Andreessen's Corollary: Ethical Dilemmas in Software Engineering

  1. 1. Andreessen’s Corollary Ethical Dilemmas in Software Engineering CTO bryan@joyent.com Bryan Cantrill @bcantrill
  2. 2. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997
  3. 3. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  4. 4. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  5. 5. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  6. 6. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  7. 7. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  8. 8. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  9. 9. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  10. 10. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 — Gottbaum et al., “Software Engineering Code of Ethics” (1997)
  11. 11. Ethics in software engineering, ca. 1997 • There is northing wrong per se with the 1990s code of software ethics — it just represents a precambrian era of software • Notably, the guiding context surrounding the code of ethics itself remains timeless… • …but the code itself is quaint, and serves primarily to remind how much software has changed in the last two decades • With the rise of ubiquitous internet in the late 1990s came the first real foreshocks of the ethical dilemmas to come…
  12. 12. 1999: Napster
  13. 13. 2003: Friendster
  14. 14. 2003: Friendster Source: Gary Rivlin, “Wallflower at the Web Party” (New York Times, October 15th, 2006)
  15. 15. 2011: Andreessen’s prophesy — Marc Andreessen, “Why Software Is Eating The World” (2011)
  16. 16. Software after Andreessen • As software has indeed come into broader domains, the internet-era challenges have multiplied and compounded — and with increasingly serious ramifications • There have been many clear ethical transgressions, common to any era with a frenzied rush for mammon… • …but much more common are true ethical dilemmas, laden with complexity and ambiguity • These are not entirely unrelated! Those least burdened by ethics seem most likely to find themselves on the ethical frontier, facing the greatest dilemmas
  17. 17. 2012: Facebook emotional manipulation Source: Kashmir Hill, “Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users’ Emotions for Science” (Forbes, June 28th, 2014)
  18. 18. 2012: Facebook emotional manipulation Source: Kramer et al., “Experimental evidence of massive scale emotional contagion through social networks”
  19. 19. 2013: Zenefits “Macro” Source: Findings of fact in SEC Administrative Proceedings against Parker Conrad et al. (file 3-18263)
  20. 20. 2014: Uber Greyball Source: Greyball Audit Report, Portland Bureau of Transportation, April, 2017
  21. 21. 2014: Uber Greyball Source: letter from Uber to Portland City Attorney, as quoted in Greyball Audit Report, Portland Bureau of Transportation, April, 2017
  22. 22. 2015: Google Photos mis-labelling Source: https://twitter.com/jackyalcine/status/615329515909156865
  23. 23. 2016: First Tesla “Autopilot” fatality Source: National Transportation Safety Board Highway Accident Report (NTSB/HAR-17/02)
  24. 24. 2016: First Tesla “Autopilot” fatality Source: National Transportation Safety Board Highway Accident Report (NTSB/HAR-17/02)
  25. 25. 2017: Facebook and Anti-Rohingya violence Source: Report of the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, United Nations Human Rights Council
  26. 26. 2017: Facebook and Anti-Rohingya violence
  27. 27. 2018: Joyent provides infrastructure to Gab
  28. 28. 2019: 737 MAX MCAS and JT610/ET302 crashes Source: Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau Preliminary Report, Ethiopian Airlines Group, B737-8 ET-AVJ, March 10, 2019
  29. 29. Source: Boeing Company, April 17th 2019 MCAS update 2019: 737 MAX MCAS and JT610/ET302 crashes
  30. 30. Software in the post-Andreessen world • This has been but a tiny sampling of the ethical dilemmas faced by software in the post-Andreessen age • It is clear that what is right for software is not necessarily right for society: we must address our ethical dilemmas directly! • Software is on the cusp of yet broader societal impact — and at a time when our society is increasingly divided and fractured • We have a greater burden to society than ever before — how can we process these dilemmas?
  31. 31. Post-Andreessen ethics
  32. 32. Software in the post-Andreessen world • Finished in the summer of 2018, the ACM’s new Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct has arrived at the right time • A radical overhaul of the 1990s-era code of ethics, it is much more principles based, e.g.: • Contribute to society and to human well-being • Avoid harm • Be honest and trustworthy • Entire code is at https://ethics.acm.org
  33. 33. Beyond a Code of Ethics • The ACM has gone beyond merely providing a Code of Ethics by kicking off its Integrity Project • Includes case studies and an “Ask an Ethicist” feature • The ACM’s efforts show that to face ethical dilemmas, we need to be able to ask tough questions • These will often not have crisp answers — but the resulting discussion is most likely to yield behavior consistent with the code of ethics • Organizations must initiate and support this discussion!
  34. 34. Andreessen’s Corollary • Organizations that support frank discussion fo ethical dilemmas will enjoy ethical differentiation • They will attract like-minded individuals who can help perpetuate a culture of consideration of ethical consequences • We must recognize that as software’s footprint continues to grow, out ethical dilemmas will only expand • We must brace ourselves for future dilemmas • Ethical quandary is Andreessen’s corollary — and it is our collective responsibility to address It directly!

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