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Students “need to understand the basic
cultural, social, legal, and ethical issues
inherent in the discipline of computing.”
of American computer science programs include SPI in curriculum




                                       (Social and Professional Issues)
of international computer science programs include SPI in curriculum
However
of all ITiCSE or SIGCSE papers in past decade on SPI
Teaching SPI within computing
has been dominated by a very
specific analytic approach.
 p           y     pp


 Can you spot it?
     y    p
Articulate
A     l
the impacts of ICT
and
ethically evaluate
those impacts
Almost all of
these b k
th    books
follow a
similar
algorithmic
methodology
It is not hard
to see
the attraction of this
approach
for
f us
computer professors
The “many gray areas
of computer ethics are
often frightening …
to professors
who are worried
about how to answer
things of which
they themselves are
unsure.”
of SPI courses taught by computer science faculty
Some have indeed argued that
using this algorithmic methodology
provides a sense of security and confidence
for nervous CS faculty teaching an SPI course
I am going to argue that both
this algorithmic methodology
and
the theoretical understanding of the relationship between
technology and society that it is based upon
are d
    deeply fl
        l flawed.
               d
I will try to convince you that
we need to move away from
                   y
the ethical evaluation of impacts
and instead
emphasize
   h i
the social context of computing
In particular, the way we teach SPI material
needs to integrate the decades-old insights
of researchers in the philosophy, history, and sociology of technology
that emphasizes a very different approach to SPI.
The common way of seeing technology is that
it is akin to a cue ball
       k            b ll
impacting or altering the rest of society
In this perspective
key technological inventions
have transformed the world.
h         f    d h      ld

Thus new technologies
need to be analyzed to understand the
wide changes they will enact.
This approach to technology
is generally referred to as
Technological Determinism
T h l i lD t        i i
Dependent Variables
(society, politics, economy, psychology, etc)

                                determines




                                  Independent Variable
                                                Technological Ch
                                                T h l       l Change
Studying technological determinism
St d i t h l i l d t         i i

   is like

        measuring the tread marks

             after the bulldozer

                  has rolled over us
It is understandable
why computer professionals find
technological d
     h l i l determinism attractive.
                     i i        i
We are the people helping to invent
new technologies
It feeds our   to be
clear desire   socially
               relevant
… and our desire
to believe that we
computer geeks  k
are the driver of
social change, and
             g ,
not politicians,
business people, or
celebrities.
Most current historians and sociologists of technology
firmly reject technological determinism
because it is
theoretically inconsistent
and
empirically under-supported
  p       y         pp
The well-established academic field of
science,
science technology and society (STS) studies
(that began in the 1960s)
has time and time again found that when
examined carefully
      i d      f ll
most technologies rarely have had the effect
that was expected
or
had the transformative impact people claim.
economy


                    history
                                         technology


          culture


society
                              politics
1. Empirically f l
1 E        ll false
2.
2 Not used by STS research community
3. Naively focused on functional capabilities
         y                         p
functional capabilities?




Most technological deterministic impact prognosticators do their work
by looking at the functional capabilities of a given technology
and then imagining the impact of those functions.
In all these cases
 – and practically any other set of prognostications and
impact evaluations than begin from an unquestioned belief
that the functional capabilities of a technology (i.e., the
means) do what is promised (i.e., achieve their ends) –

the expected social impacts
ended up being wildly wrong
because the prognosticators
believed in a
naïve technological determinism.
The introduction of household technology
did not end up creating,
in the words of Ruth Schwartz Cowan,
less work for mother,
but
in fact
more work
because of a series of social changes that could not h
b          f      i   f   i l h        th t      ld t have b been
predicted if one limited one’s analysis just to the functional
capabilities of the household technologies.
Efficient internet search-engines
have not
resulted in people with
too much knowledge;
instead,
i      d
unpredicted changes in how people interact
with words and even possibly cognitive decline
due to the brain s plasticity
           brain’s
have arguably resulted in the exact
opposite consequence
The introduction of anti-lock disc brakes
have not
reduced accidents at all,
because drivers tend to drive faster and tailgate more
closely due to the improved braking technology and
also partly because of increases in the intensity of
traffic due to unexpected changes in urban
geography.
Depending upon how failure is defined,
anywhere from 50 to 90% of ERPs have
been categorized as failures.

Others
O h report over 70% achieve few of
                           hi    f f
the objectives expected of them.
There are even examples where bankruptcy trustees
Th                      l    h    b k
have blamed the adoption of ERP software for the
failure of the business as a whole.
The first step
Then we should take in our
Social and Professional Issues courses
is to communicate how rarely
technologies achieve their promise
                           promise,
and indeed,
how many do the opposite.
The revenge effect of technology
is extremely well documented
yet
it is uncovered in any of the
computer ethics textbooks examined f
             hi      b k       i d for
this presentation.
One way to achieve this goal
would be by beginning the SPI course
with examples and readings
on how certain vital technologies had little
impact on some societies,
or
on how certain technologies were strongly
modified and differently adapted in
                        y      p
different cultures and countries.
This more historically-nuanced
approach to technology and society
is what is generally called
social constructivism
   i l          i i
In this approach,
one looks at how technologies are
researched,
invented,
financed,
financed
developed,
adopted,
marketed,
and propagated
within a very complex system
generally referred to as society.
In other words,
our SPI courses should
look more like a
historical sociology course
and a lot less
like a philosophic ethics course.
2   Importance of Uncertainty
The reason revenge effects occur
is due to the fact that
“socio-technological transformation
 socio-technological
is a highly complex process
which involves many uncertainties ”
                    uncertainties.
But in moral philosophy
             p      p y
  and computer ethics in particular
 uncertainty is underappreciated.


   This is an important issue
     since
    substantive moral theories
     such as deontology and utilitarianism
        h d        l      d ili i i
    require clear information
     about
  effects in order to
     make ethical judgments.
Typical problems or dilemmas
 yp     p
for which macro-ethical approaches are
applied are most often done in a
context of complete knowledge.


This is appealing for computer scientists,
who often work with problems
modeled by idealized abstractions
for which complete knowledge is possible.

Function PerformEthicalEvaluation()
   If (you do action x) then 
      y people will be harmed 
      but z people will be benefited
   End If
   Return EthicalEvaluation(y,z)
End Function
The ethics of technology,
by contrast,
should be recognized
as residing
in
i a context
of at least partial
            p
uncertainty or ambiguity.
Furthermore
the degree of uncertainty
is greater
for
f emerging t h l i
           i technologies
      and the more complex the technology


       the more uncertain we are
       as to the developmental
       trajectory of a technology
o1 o2 o3 = different development trajectories




t1 = time one                              y = specific technology   x = evaluating agent
                                                                                teacher
                                                                                student
                                                                                journalist
The evaluating agent
must have knowledge
of the development trajectory
in order to morally evaluate it.
Unfortunately,
Unfortunately
we very often cannot know
the actual development
trajectory at time t1
And if we guess one based on
functional capabilities we will
usually pick the wrong trajectory.
It might be more helpful and
                                                  important to understand which
(this requires skills in sociology and history)
                                                  trajectories are more likely than
                                                  to apply a prescriptive ethical
                                                  j g
                                                  judgment to a single trajectory.
                                                                    g      j     y
In the early years of the 1990s, the
computers and society literature
provided ethical evaluations of a
variety of trajectories that never
materialized, such as
     The disappearance of war
                        f

     The workless society

    The elimination of large corporations

    Citizen control over all aspect of political life
3   Beyond
    Moral Evaluation
This paper has argued that
moral evaluation in the
uncertain realm of
socio-technological
socio technological change
should only be tentative at best.
The alternative approach
for our SPI courses
should be disclosive ethics.
Rather than applying
big ethical theories
to l
t clear and well-known impacts,
             d w ll k w i       t
the focus should be on disclosing the
assumptions,
         ti
values,
and interests
   d
built into the
design,
implementation,
and use of technology.
We can in fact satisfy the CS-2008 SPI area
 by guiding our students in the unpacking of the
     normative assumptions of computer practice,




which in turn requires clarifying the complex web
  of interactions that construct the different
     trajectories a technology may take.
This
Thi approach is not about evaluating the
           hi     t b t      l ti th




rightness        or         wrongness


     of a technological practice
Rather, it is about opening up
the bl k box of
 h black b       f
                   technological practice
                           g     p
                   for understanding …
ACM recognizes that it is equally important for students to appreciate
the historical and social context as it is to perform ethical evaluation.
It is time for us to transform the
way we teach the SPI area, so it
is more in tune with the actual
ACM recommendations.
(as well as more in tune with approaches in
other disciplines studying technology)
Doing so would make
our SPI courses much more
focused on the
f      d th
social contexts of computing
andd
significantly less focused
on i ethical evaluation.
   its hi l        l i
Randy Connolly
Dept. Computer Science & Information Systems
Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada
         y           y,    g y,
rconnolly@mtroyal.ca




  Images from iStockPhoto and stock.xchng

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Beyond Good and Evil: Rethinking the Social Components in our Computing Curricula

  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4. Students “need to understand the basic cultural, social, legal, and ethical issues inherent in the discipline of computing.”
  • 5. of American computer science programs include SPI in curriculum (Social and Professional Issues)
  • 6. of international computer science programs include SPI in curriculum
  • 8. of all ITiCSE or SIGCSE papers in past decade on SPI
  • 9. Teaching SPI within computing has been dominated by a very specific analytic approach. p y pp Can you spot it? y p
  • 10.
  • 11.
  • 12.
  • 13. Articulate A l the impacts of ICT and ethically evaluate those impacts
  • 14. Almost all of these b k th books follow a similar algorithmic methodology
  • 15.
  • 16. It is not hard to see the attraction of this approach for f us computer professors
  • 17. The “many gray areas of computer ethics are often frightening … to professors who are worried about how to answer things of which they themselves are unsure.”
  • 18. of SPI courses taught by computer science faculty
  • 19. Some have indeed argued that using this algorithmic methodology provides a sense of security and confidence for nervous CS faculty teaching an SPI course
  • 20. I am going to argue that both this algorithmic methodology and the theoretical understanding of the relationship between technology and society that it is based upon are d deeply fl l flawed. d
  • 21. I will try to convince you that we need to move away from y the ethical evaluation of impacts and instead emphasize h i the social context of computing
  • 22. In particular, the way we teach SPI material needs to integrate the decades-old insights of researchers in the philosophy, history, and sociology of technology that emphasizes a very different approach to SPI.
  • 23.
  • 24. The common way of seeing technology is that it is akin to a cue ball k b ll impacting or altering the rest of society
  • 25. In this perspective key technological inventions have transformed the world. h f d h ld Thus new technologies need to be analyzed to understand the wide changes they will enact.
  • 26. This approach to technology is generally referred to as Technological Determinism T h l i lD t i i
  • 27. Dependent Variables (society, politics, economy, psychology, etc) determines Independent Variable Technological Ch T h l l Change
  • 28. Studying technological determinism St d i t h l i l d t i i is like measuring the tread marks after the bulldozer has rolled over us
  • 29. It is understandable why computer professionals find technological d h l i l determinism attractive. i i i We are the people helping to invent new technologies
  • 30. It feeds our to be clear desire socially relevant
  • 31. … and our desire to believe that we computer geeks k are the driver of social change, and g , not politicians, business people, or celebrities.
  • 32.
  • 33. Most current historians and sociologists of technology firmly reject technological determinism because it is theoretically inconsistent and empirically under-supported p y pp
  • 34. The well-established academic field of science, science technology and society (STS) studies (that began in the 1960s) has time and time again found that when examined carefully i d f ll most technologies rarely have had the effect that was expected or had the transformative impact people claim.
  • 35.
  • 36.
  • 37. economy history technology culture society politics
  • 38.
  • 39. 1. Empirically f l 1 E ll false 2. 2 Not used by STS research community 3. Naively focused on functional capabilities y p
  • 40. functional capabilities? Most technological deterministic impact prognosticators do their work by looking at the functional capabilities of a given technology and then imagining the impact of those functions.
  • 41.
  • 42.
  • 43.
  • 44.
  • 45.
  • 46. In all these cases – and practically any other set of prognostications and impact evaluations than begin from an unquestioned belief that the functional capabilities of a technology (i.e., the means) do what is promised (i.e., achieve their ends) – the expected social impacts ended up being wildly wrong because the prognosticators believed in a naïve technological determinism.
  • 47.
  • 48. The introduction of household technology did not end up creating, in the words of Ruth Schwartz Cowan, less work for mother, but in fact more work because of a series of social changes that could not h b f i f i l h th t ld t have b been predicted if one limited one’s analysis just to the functional capabilities of the household technologies.
  • 49. Efficient internet search-engines have not resulted in people with too much knowledge; instead, i d unpredicted changes in how people interact with words and even possibly cognitive decline due to the brain s plasticity brain’s have arguably resulted in the exact opposite consequence
  • 50. The introduction of anti-lock disc brakes have not reduced accidents at all, because drivers tend to drive faster and tailgate more closely due to the improved braking technology and also partly because of increases in the intensity of traffic due to unexpected changes in urban geography.
  • 51. Depending upon how failure is defined, anywhere from 50 to 90% of ERPs have been categorized as failures. Others O h report over 70% achieve few of hi f f the objectives expected of them. There are even examples where bankruptcy trustees Th l h b k have blamed the adoption of ERP software for the failure of the business as a whole.
  • 52.
  • 53. The first step Then we should take in our Social and Professional Issues courses is to communicate how rarely technologies achieve their promise promise, and indeed, how many do the opposite.
  • 54. The revenge effect of technology is extremely well documented yet it is uncovered in any of the computer ethics textbooks examined f hi b k i d for this presentation.
  • 55. One way to achieve this goal would be by beginning the SPI course with examples and readings on how certain vital technologies had little impact on some societies, or on how certain technologies were strongly modified and differently adapted in y p different cultures and countries.
  • 56. This more historically-nuanced approach to technology and society is what is generally called social constructivism i l i i
  • 57. In this approach, one looks at how technologies are researched, invented, financed, financed developed, adopted, marketed, and propagated within a very complex system generally referred to as society.
  • 58. In other words, our SPI courses should look more like a historical sociology course and a lot less like a philosophic ethics course.
  • 59. 2 Importance of Uncertainty
  • 60. The reason revenge effects occur is due to the fact that “socio-technological transformation socio-technological is a highly complex process which involves many uncertainties ” uncertainties.
  • 61.
  • 62. But in moral philosophy p p y and computer ethics in particular uncertainty is underappreciated. This is an important issue since substantive moral theories such as deontology and utilitarianism h d l d ili i i require clear information about effects in order to make ethical judgments.
  • 63. Typical problems or dilemmas yp p for which macro-ethical approaches are applied are most often done in a context of complete knowledge. This is appealing for computer scientists, who often work with problems modeled by idealized abstractions for which complete knowledge is possible. Function PerformEthicalEvaluation() If (you do action x) then  y people will be harmed  but z people will be benefited End If Return EthicalEvaluation(y,z) End Function
  • 64. The ethics of technology, by contrast, should be recognized as residing in i a context of at least partial p uncertainty or ambiguity.
  • 66. the degree of uncertainty is greater for f emerging t h l i i technologies and the more complex the technology the more uncertain we are as to the developmental trajectory of a technology
  • 67. o1 o2 o3 = different development trajectories t1 = time one y = specific technology x = evaluating agent teacher student journalist
  • 68. The evaluating agent must have knowledge of the development trajectory in order to morally evaluate it.
  • 69. Unfortunately, Unfortunately we very often cannot know the actual development trajectory at time t1
  • 70. And if we guess one based on functional capabilities we will usually pick the wrong trajectory.
  • 71.
  • 72. It might be more helpful and important to understand which (this requires skills in sociology and history) trajectories are more likely than to apply a prescriptive ethical j g judgment to a single trajectory. g j y
  • 73.
  • 74. In the early years of the 1990s, the computers and society literature provided ethical evaluations of a variety of trajectories that never materialized, such as The disappearance of war f The workless society The elimination of large corporations Citizen control over all aspect of political life
  • 75. 3 Beyond Moral Evaluation
  • 76. This paper has argued that moral evaluation in the uncertain realm of socio-technological socio technological change should only be tentative at best.
  • 77. The alternative approach for our SPI courses should be disclosive ethics.
  • 78. Rather than applying big ethical theories to l t clear and well-known impacts, d w ll k w i t the focus should be on disclosing the assumptions, ti values, and interests d built into the design, implementation, and use of technology.
  • 79. We can in fact satisfy the CS-2008 SPI area by guiding our students in the unpacking of the normative assumptions of computer practice, which in turn requires clarifying the complex web of interactions that construct the different trajectories a technology may take.
  • 80. This Thi approach is not about evaluating the hi t b t l ti th rightness or wrongness of a technological practice
  • 81. Rather, it is about opening up the bl k box of h black b f technological practice g p for understanding …
  • 82.
  • 83. ACM recognizes that it is equally important for students to appreciate the historical and social context as it is to perform ethical evaluation.
  • 84. It is time for us to transform the way we teach the SPI area, so it is more in tune with the actual ACM recommendations. (as well as more in tune with approaches in other disciplines studying technology)
  • 85. Doing so would make our SPI courses much more focused on the f d th social contexts of computing andd significantly less focused on i ethical evaluation. its hi l l i
  • 86. Randy Connolly Dept. Computer Science & Information Systems Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada y y, g y, rconnolly@mtroyal.ca Images from iStockPhoto and stock.xchng