This anthology of essays, contributed and compiled by experts in a variety of fields, addresses both perspectives in the debate regarding the proliferation of computers in our lives. Topics ranges from privacy copyright and computer crime issues to the global impact of computers, online communities and virtual reality. For anyone interested in a broad-based interdisciplinary view of the ethical issues facing society in light of the computer's proliferation in our personal and professional lives.
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This new anthology in the burgeoning field of computer and information technology ethics offers a broad-based approach. The text is accessible enough for first-year students, while the selections are rich enough for use in specialized upper-division courses.
The readings address subjects including the global impact of computers, on-line communities, and virtual reality. Selections analyze topics ranging from privacy, copyright and professionalism to computer crime.
The texts included in this book are by women and men of many nations and diverse perspectives. The writers include ethicists, lawyers and engineers, as well as sociologists, anthropologists, social scientists, and literary figures.
Our Current Landscape
Computer technologies permeate our everyday lives. Even the quickest, simplest survey of daily experience proves laden with digitally based instruments and information. We find World Wide Web addresses on our cereal boxes, ATMs, magazines, cleaning detergent bottles, and evening news programs. The "Y2K bug" was not a biological entity but a political and economic concern. Not only are "Nintendo" and "Sega" a part of our common vocabulary, they are rites of passage for today's children. An estimated 55 million Americans have access to the Internet, which provides an entreé into a vast array of information and entertainment. Computers even reach into our understanding of religion and what is sacred, as evidenced by a headline from USA Today that reads "Cyberfaith: Teenagers expect the Internet will substitute for their current churchgoing experiences in coming years." Of course, this is only a very small sampling of how computers and computer-based technologies pervade and shape aspects of our daily lives and thoughts.
With this revolution, or shift in paradigm, a great deal of hyperbole and myth making arises from a variety of sources. People in commerce and industry try to show how their computer products are necessary for our existence, as demonstrated by the bombardment of advertising showing that computers bring order to people's businesses and lives. Politicians try to ride the wave of technophilia to get the popular vote. The military produces propaganda concerning the precision and effectiveness of computers in expensive defense projects. According to these and many other sources, computers are the penicillin for the problems of life, liberty, and society. Ideas about the magic of computer technologies have been integrated into, and further supported by, the modern ethos of our culture: "faster, better, stronger." Of course, in reality, these claims are much too optimistic and overstated.
On the other side of the debate we see cautionary tales presented by entertainment media, among others. In the same way that novels like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein articulated a nineteenth-century anxiety about new technologies, films like Terminator, War Games, Brazil, The Net, and The Matrix act as heralds of the danger of computer proliferation into important aspects of our lives. Backlash movements of neo-Luddites have also arisen calling for a return to simpler times where experience felt less mediated by technological apparatuses.
But no matter the perspective, all sides agree that computer technologies mean power. Computer technologies create new abilities to be exercised. But with such power comes a need for reflective thought concerning the use of these technologies. This reflection ought to be done before implementation of the new technologies. As we are inundated with images and information about computers, we need to be attentive to the possible harms and goods that the integration of computer technologies brings. If we want to implement them in the best possible way, we need to guide the current love of technology in directions that will improve our daily lives, not just for today but for tomorrow as well. One way to do so is to recognize the hyperbole, the politics, and the basic desires expressed on both sides of the debate. Once we get by this hype, then we are better able to ask the important questions concerning the impacts and underlying values associated with these technologies.
Preliminaries About the Book: The Complexity of the Issues
No one textbook can have both the breadth and depth to cover exhaustively the challenges created by the microchip, cyberspace, and related technologies. For example, in this text references to computer technologies correspond not only to the box sitting on your desk (or the microchips therein) but also to the political organizations created through the implementation and development of electronic computing, the social processes that bring these artifacts into existence, and formerly unmanageable tasks computer technologies allow to be undertaken. It is important to take all of these elements into consideration when discussing the ethical impacts of computer technologies. The computer is not simply a bundle of plastic, metal, and silicon; rather, it is a technology that arises from, and is used in, a particular social context. For the study of this text, careful reflection is necessary when reading each essay in order to best decipher how "computer technologies" are understood, as well as the socialethical values that are implicated therein.
Our desire is to help both teachers and students begin to understand and evaluate social and ethical issues that are raised by the use of computer technologies. We hope to have included a representative sampling of issues to demonstrate the gravity of our current and future situations. Furthermore, these concerns are not found just at the local or national level. Global concerns are critical in considering technological issues.
Like all textbooks, this anthology is a pedagogical device. As such, a word or two should be mentioned up front about its design and features so that it may be used by teachers and students effectively both in the classroom and out.
Organization I: What We Have Included
As you can see from the table of contents, the book is divided into four sections and a set of appendices. Each section is further divided into chapters consisting of essays from the disciplines of philosophy, sociology, psychology, computer science, journalism, politics, and literature. After an initial introduction by the editors, Section 1 acts as an introduction to the philosophy of technology and the realm of values occasioned by this age of technology—in particular computer technology—in which we find ourselves. Section 2 concerns the impact computers have on our quality of life and asks serious questions about our almost blind acceptance of computers as a good. Section 3 turns to more specific challenges the uses and abuses of these technologies bring about. Finally, Section 4 explores new and future possibilities for computer development as well as the ethical issues that need to be confronted before and as these new developments take hold.
To help explain the logic of each section's organizing principles, we have included a brief introductory statement for each section that maps out the flow of the section. Also, as an aid in understanding some basic features of each essay, we provide a paragraph introduction directly preceding each individual essay. Each section concludes with a selected bibliography of material related to the topics discussed in the section.
The appendices provide further reference and resource material. These resources include professional codes of ethics, institutional statements on ethical use, and a list of library, government, and Internet resources. Teachers and students are encouraged to use these resources to augment discussions of the issues that this book is attempting to bring to light.
Organization II: What We Have NOT Included
We have left out the customary introductory chapter on normative ethics /utilitarianism, deontology, virtues, natural law, etc.). Many fine, short, and accessible books exist that provide the necessary groundwork in ethical theory. Prentice Hall alone has published several solid books in this area, ranging from the most recent, Basic Ethics by Michael Boylan (2000), to the classic Ethics by William Frankena (1973). Knowing that many instructors prefer to use such ancillary texts, we believe that the space in this text is better utilized by core articles on computers and technology. (Of course, a few of the articles included do briefly discuss ethical theories—e.g., those of Nissenbaum in Chapter 8.)
Also within these pages you will not find study questions for any essay, chapter, or section. Aside from the brief introductory material discussed above, it is not our intention to lead teachers and students by the hand through these issues. This would both stifle creative, intelligent thinking by the student and unnecessarily direct instructors. Our approach encourages the instructor to use the essays as he or she sees fit.
How to Reorganize the Volume
Having said this, though, it may be of some benefit to point out that issues raised by these essays often cross the artificial organization boundaries of chapters and sections we have established. An article in the chapter on computer professionals, for example, may relate well, directly or indirectly, to articles on hacking, value-laden technologies, or networking. This being the case, we would like to point to some related articles that are not grouped together under our organizational schematic. We hope this cross-referencing demonstrates flexibility in the use of the essays.
Here are a few suggestions, though hardly exhaustive, on how instructors might create a section of greater depth concerning several of the prominent themes running through this book:
Topic: International Perspectives on Computers
CONTENT: Articles written by individuals outside of the United States or articles explicitly written about global concerns.
ESSAYS TO USE:
Topic: Professional/Research Concerns
CONTENT: Articles particularly relevant for students involved in the development and research of computer programs and hardware.
ESSAYS TO USE:
CONTENT: Articles relating to networked environments and virtual realities.
ESSAYS TO USE:
Here are some other suggestions for supplementing existing chapters with essays from other parts of the book:
Chapter 2—Computer Technologies as Value-Laden.
Chapter 4—Alienation, Anonymity, and Embodiment.
Chapter 7—Freedom, Privacy and Control in an Information Age.
Chapter 10—Artificial Intelligence.
A special nod goes to Professor John J. McDermott of Texas A&M for his ready participation. John and his wife Patricia (a quite capable philosopher in her own right) sat down with us to discuss issues in computer use and the quality of life that computers create for us. Their insights helped to stimulate much discussion between us, and John's follow-up notes and calls displayed his ever warm and supportive attitude toward this project.
Finally, our friends and family deserve the most praise from us. In particular, Micah would like to thank Robert Talisse and Tom Burke, who have taken up slack on other projects also in full swing to which he has not given attention. He would also very much like to thank and give love to his wife Kelly and daughter Emily. Paul would like to pass on his love and thanks to his parents Gwen and Gary Ford for their continued support and encouragement as well as their supplying the opportunity for Paul to develop practical computer experience in their small business. Also critical in providing support and good mental health were Laura McMullen, Tim Ford, and Jenny Ford.
We dedicate this volume to those who made computers and technology interesting in their social contexts: for Micah, Professors James D. Hester, David B. Bragg, Larry Harvill, and the late Harry Mullikin; for Paul, Professors Anthony Aaby, Jim Klein, and Larry Hickman and especially Mr. Heath Spangler.
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