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The Choice of Good and Evil: The Issue of Computer Ethics

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No technology has given its users the ability to use it for such a wide variety of tasks as computer technology. This could be largely attributed to the logical malleability (to use James Moor's terminology) of the technology which made its potential application appear limitless. Furthermore, the ability to use this technology by highly skilled professionals as well as an increasing number of ordinary people with basic or reasonable ICT skills has given rise to many issues worthy of ethical consideration. But computer technology is also an evolving technology. Laws and regulations that are designed to address the ethical implications of computers often fail to keep pace with the rapid advances in this field. Moreover, the ability (or rather potential ability) of computer technology to produce “thinking” machines adds another dimension to the current debate of computer ethics. This article attempts to highlight some of these issues and examine some of the main strands of thought on this important issue.

One of the first people to predict the profound impact that computers were likely to have on our lives and the social and ethical implications of that impact was Norbert Wiener, an American scientist and thinker of Polish Jewish background, famous for developing the field of cybernetics during the 1940s.

Wiener called today's era the “automatic” age where, he predicted, there will be machines that would be able to gather, store and interpret information and make decisions on the basis of the messages which they receive and send. Furthermore, Wiener recognized the many possibilities created by the global communication technologies of the 1950s such as the ability for people to work (and communicate) remotely and even predicted the inevitability of a “world state”, the equivalent of what is termed nowadays “the global village”. Wiener was clearly mindful of the social and ethical implications and opportunities of these technological developments. He once wrote: “the choice of good and evil knocks at our door” (Wiener, 1950: 213).
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2011

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