Volume 48, 2008
Philosophy of Technology
The Computer Ethics Dilemma
New technology develops with little attention to its impact upon human values. In particular, let us do what we can in this era of “the computer revolution” to see that computer technology advances human values. True enough, we could argue endlessly over the meanings of terms like “privacy,” “health,” “security,” “fairness,” or “ownership.” Philosophers do it all the time – and ought to. But people understand such values well enough to desire and even to treasure them. We do not need absolute clarity or unattainable unanimity before we do anything to advance them. Professional groups are both technical and moral communities because in order to be self-regulatory the members must set shared goals and specify appropriate ways to achieve them. In order to specify these appropriate
standards it is necessary to detail what types of behavior are ethically acceptable or not. The three most important functions of a code, he notes, identify different types of codes. Codes are either primarily (1) aspirational, giving ideals to strive for, (2) educational, intending to educate or socialize some constituency, or (3) regulatory, hoping to sanction violations of the standards. Most codes are intended to achieve all three aims to some degree, but a careful examination may reveal a concentration upon one of these. Advancements in computer technology over the past twenty years have created ethical dilemmas, some similar to
other professions and some unique to the computer field. Because of the questions that have been raised, and in some instances sensational news accounts of computer irregularities, including fraud, there is a growing perception that self-regulation may be the only means by which the computer professional associations will prevent governments from intervening to regulate the computer profession.