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Review: Code of Ethics for Programmers? 216

Do computer professionals need a code of ethics? As the computing industry grows, argue two experts on the social aspects of computing, so do the many ethical dilemmas facing people who create, design and sell software and hardware. I'll second that idea: computing is getting some of the worst publicity around, and more and more of it is deserved. This is the second in a series of essays based on "Technology and the Future," edited by Albert Teich and published by Bedford/St.Martin's.

Computers may have ushered in a social and economic revolution, but they don't necessarily signify an advance in the world's ethical life.

Stealing other people's work is almost a hobby on the Net, where copying isn't seen as a crime, but as an inalienable right. Geeks and nerds routinely brag about their software snatches, purloined gaming and music libraries and free upgrades.

Programmers frequently come up with products that are buggy, excessive, unworkable, unsupportable or overpriced. The industry's consumers are exploited and abused.

Online, cruelty and hostility are points of pride, civility and respect rare virtues.

While people all over the world have been quick to embrace computing, they've been slower to consider its moral implications. The explosion of computer technology, its sudden rise, and its susceptibility to misuse and malfunction have raised a slew of unresolved ethical, social and legal issues.

The Net's builders - engineers, nerds, academics and geeks of the 60s and 70s - talked a lot about freedom, accessibility, and openness; they believed in information as a tool for improving the human condition. They would be flabbergasted, three decades later, to learn that entertainment has become the Net's primary draw. According to Cyber Dialogue, more than 43 million users -70 per cent of all Americans online - were using the Web for sports, movies, TV, music or gaming.

As is often typical in visionary social movements, the real world tends to set in brutally. The leaders of today's computing industry today talk a lot more about bandwidth, hardware, and IPO's than about changing the world.

As for other leaders, Congress is much too busy exploiting political concerns about dirty pictures to focus on real moral problems - and by now, nobody would really want Congressional input into the life of the Net and the Web, anyway, especially when it comes to ethics.

So although there are scads of ethical people in the computing business and online - many engaged in downright noble endeavors - computing is still raw, wild, and ethically unformed. Along with the honorable values found online - freedom, sharing, creating - there are plenty of dark ones.

"Computer Ethics," by Tom Forester and Perry Morrison, is one of the most provocative essays in Albert Teich's collection of writings about issues raised by the spread of new technology. There could hardly be a more timely subject. There is nothing approaching a consensus on computing ethics, even as the number of Americans using the Internet rockets past the 100 million mark.

The ease with which even minimally-skilled Net users can copy software, for instance, presents millions of people with ethical dilemmas weekly. Ethicists have argued that copying software is blatant theft, yet the easy transmission of software also challenges long-held ideas about who can and should own information.

Is copying software wrong? Are some kinds of copying more ethical than others?

Hacking and cracking are defined differently all over the Net and Web; some see hacking as harmless fun while cracking is criminal, but an increasing number of people view both activities as equivalent to fraud or theft.

What about the behavior of computer users online? People can act arrogantly, even viciously, ignorantly asserting opinions and spreading misinformation, attacking different views, ridiculing the helpless, driving newcomers away. Websites routinely tolerate behavior that would be prohibited or curtailed in almost any other other context.

Within the computer industry itself, there are by- now- entrenched patterns of unethical corporate behavior. Few companies involved in the creation or maintenance of computers or programs take any real responsibility for what they sell or how it works. Accordingly, few Net users are without horror stories to tell about squandered money or malfunctioning equipment.

Computers are often badly - even unethically -- sold, with pricey and unnecessary equipment foisted on unknowing consumers; technical support remains a nightmare of near-extortionate "incident" plans and delays, with often poorly-trained, overwhelmed staff. In most companies, some of the most important employees, especially in terms of public perception - Help Desk geeks - have the lowest status and salaries.

Computer software is constructed to invade privacy, record personal tastes and habits, share unauthorized information, and market personal information in ever-widening circles and ways.

It's hard to think of any other business with so horrid a record of abusing its customers. Public disgust and resentment over the way computers are sold, and the way the machines work (or don't) help create a climate in which government regulation and intervention becomes more politically appealing. As computers become more central, they tend to be blamed for more and more problems - pornography, isolation, addiction, hate-mongering. Computers get an even worse PR rap these days than politicians.

Although much of this publicity is false or overblown, computing reinforces the disturbing notion that technology often rushes ahead of our ability to deal coherently - or ethically - with it. That in turn breeds mistrust and suspicion.

Who, exactly, bears responsibility for bugs? For system crashes? For the equitable distribution of technology?

The truth is, we have no idea. And it's all only going to get more ethically complicated.

Computer- driven studies in artificial intelligence and genomes have raised staggering question marks - some having to do with the nature of life itself - though they receive far less political or media attention than the occasional media-sensationalized computer virus.

Because computing is a relatively new field, Forester and Morrison write, the profession has lacked the time or organizational capacity to establish a set of moral rules or ethics the way more entrenched professions like medicine or law have. Computing and its many subsets - such as programming and software engineering - haven't yet emerged as a full-fledged profession. They also plead that computer educators teach ethics; that they make students aware of the social problems caused by computers and the kinds of moral choices programmers and designers will face at work.

"Computer professionals face all sorts of ethical dilemmas in their everyday work life," write Forester and Morrison. "First, although they have obligations to their employers, to the customers, to their co-professionals, and to the general public, these obligations often come into conflict."

How should a systems analyst respond if her employer insists on selling overengineered, unnecessarily expensive or otherwise inadequate systems to unknowing customers? Should computer professionals care when they see intellectual or property rights being infringed upon? How should a computer professional deal with the daily barrage of issues involving intellectual property?

Do non-professionals online have any ethical responsibilities at all? Movements like free software and Open Source advocate the sharing, distribution, use and re-use of software, a moral position in conflict with traditional notions of ownership. Yet online, it's almost a moral imperative to thwart corporate efforts to curb information, as when the WB network foolishly postponed the season finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in the post-Columbine hysteria and fans downloaded it all over the Net.

Technically, the "Buffy" fans were stealing the WB's property. Can't a network programming exec air what he or she has bought any time he or she pleases, for any reason at all? Yet in this case, the theft seemed more ethical than the hypocritical decision to postpone the broadcast.

Similiarly, the music industry is in near-meltdown over unpaid MP3 downloads and other forms of piracy. Yet the record companies - one of the world's larger cartels outside Colombia - were due some comeuppance for their arrogance, greed and control over music. In the age of the market-driven mega-corporation, it sometimes does seem more ethical to steal than to pay.

For now, online ethics remain personal and individualistic. Certain values predominate in some quarters - information-sharing, a common interest in protecting freedom, an increasingly rationalist approach to political and informational issues. But how to implement those values in any particular situation is left up to the individual, a hit-or-miss proposition in a culture with tens of millions of people and tens of thousands of newcomers every day.

Professional organizations like the ACM (Associatiion of Computing Machinery), the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), the British Computer Society (BCS) and IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing) have all worked to create codes of ethics and professional conduct. Few of these codes are widely known and embraced.

But there are broad ethical principles that many computer users and builders can rally around. Here's a few starters:

  • Opportunity. People who work in computers might work for the equitable distribution of technology, so that computer users don't become a powerful elite in control of a culture that excludes the technologically illiterate, a social nightmare already well underway.

  • Responsibility. People who make technology need to consider its social implications, applications and consequences.
  • Access. Unfettered access to the Internet, its information unrestricted and unregulated by corporations or government except in the most dire circumstances.
  • Civics. Democracy and inclusion, using network computing to break down elites, to bring more people into the political process, provide them more information, and give them new ways to express their opinions and attitudes.
  • Civility. Another ethical goal might be a civil society online - especially a new kind of media -- where information is gathered and shared openly, solutions are approached rationally rather than ideologically, facts replace confrontation and dogma, argument is encouraged but personal attacks viewed as the unethical assaults on the free movement of ideas that they are.

And where corporations, designers, programmers and engineers take responsibility for the things they make and the way they work and are used.

Next - Part Three: The Coming Of The Perfect Baby

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Review: Code of Ethics for Programmers?

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  • There are so many newcomers to the internet now that it's up to much abuse. People will generally abuse things that are new to them. After the prohibition everyone drank like crazy for periods, but after a while they cooled off and got bored with it, they moved onto more interesting things. Eventually the internet will be a common everyday thing, it almost is, but still not every house owns a computer with a dial up account. Once everyone has internet access it will become just a regular thing, people will GET BORED WITH ALWAYS TYPING IN CAPS. Cracks will be as common as shoplifting, or armed robberies, online shops will be built with security, just like real shops. We just need to give the internet some time to cool off, once it does people will realize how they should use it. Not everyone will know about how their computer works, they won't have to, so salesman will still try to rip people off. But you'll always be able to get a geek to come along with you on a computer shopping trip, just how you can get a mechanic to come along with you on a car shopping trip.
    In short once we give computers enough time to grow into our culture they'll stop being abused.
  • Let me guess - you're American, right? :-)
  • The quote you mentioned is, in my view, the only sensible line in the entire rant, but it also goes against his whole 'argument' if he actually has one that is!

    The Music Industry *is* a cartel and is entirely unethical, to itself as well as to others. The Music Industry does everything it can to protect itself and NOTHING to protect musician beyond protecting those few who make the Music Industry money. The fact that they have gotten the legal system on their side is an impressive feat of Criminal Systems Cracker-dom.

    People who want the Information Industry to be regualated, insured and copy-written will get what they justly deserve. Hopefully, however, the very nature of digital technology will continue to make this so immensely difficult that they will eventually give up or die trying.

    I'll risk Bad Software and Rude Comments in the name of Freedom any day. More often than not, however, the Rude Comments are directed AT the Bad Software, so the Present (non)System actually works to better itself (Linux/GNU).

    Fsck with it at your peril!

    ; )


  • ...until it becomes Illegal and Unethical to make fun of his silly rants. That is the Be All and the End All of this article.

  • There have been a few times I have wished there were a code of ethics that I was bound to. For example, I was once asked to set up a SPAM. I refused to do so. The discussion became somewhat 'animated' at that point. One saving factor was that our bandwidth provider had a no-spam paragraph in it's acceptable use policy. Otherwise, I would have been on my own. (Jobs are lost that way!)

    A less reasonable employer would have fired me for insubordination.

    All too often sysadmins get put in an uncomfortable position when companies ask them to rifle through people's email.

    Things would be much better for professionals if they could honestly tell their employers that no ethical programmer/sysadmin/tech will do that for them, and they could point out a clause in a code of professional ethics to back their statement up.

  • You don't seem to understand that making generalizations about someone, based on their color, sex or age is discrimatory. Your use of the term "Injuns" kind of leads me to believe that you harbour some racial prejudices?
  • There is Theft of Intellectual Property, Theft of authorship, etc.

    There is an important difference. If I steal your car, you are stranded. You cannot make use of it at all. If I steal your idea, you can still think about it and use it. If I 'steal' a copy of your software, you can still license it to others. My action cost you nothing.

    Note that I say it is not theft, not that it is ethical. It is also obviously not legal. Some would argue that it is unethical to charge $100 for a copy that cost $1.00 to make (once development costs and a reasonable profit have been paid for), but that is another debate.

  • The need for a prescription to buy medicine is a big contributor to the problem. It doesn't matter that you have had the same illness five times in five years, and each time the same thing was prescribed, or that the doctor will probably know exactly what he will prescribe this time as soon as you walk in the door, you still have to go so you can get a prescription. The proscription is probably for an antibiotic that will cost $10 to get filled.

    The other side is that pharmaceutical companies charge way more than they should. (Even after considering the cost of R&D and testing). That's why herbal medicine is seeing a HUGE comeback in the US. Most people would prefer 'unproven' herbal medicine to nothing at all (which is the only other option they can afford). The pharmaceutical industry and the AMA are lobbying hard to take that option away. They prefer that your illness makes you their hostage. If you don't pay their randsom and die instead, you were of no use to them anyway.

    Before the flamefest starts, I do believe that all (or even most) doctors feel the way the AMA seems to.

  • I'm sure that you are a great man in your own way, but don't give me all this BS.

    With Regard to Mr. Katz, may his finger always be up his nose.

    Adrian Messner
  • Well, make up your mind. Are you here to talk about Microsoft or to talk about ethics?

  • We can get along quite nicely with one big code of ethics for everybody: Don't f*** anyone over. At least that's my code of ethics.

    Hehehe, that might be the first time Ive seen the golden rule put into those words. Works for me.

    However, Id like to add two related concepts: The first is a mandate to take responsibility for your actions. In my personal experience, there seems to be a shift away from admitting that you f***ed up to covering your ass at all costs. I have a lot more respect for people who admit their fault in a situation rather than trying to diffuse responsibility. At work, I made a pretty serious mistake that hosed a server and cost one department a day of downtime. Officially, it wasnt really my fault, but I had the last clear chance to avoid the problem. I spoke up and took responsibility, got chewed out pretty hardcore, and everyone moved on and we fixed the problem. Sure, I could have shut up and let my boss and the other techs share the grief, but it was mainly my fault. Fortunately, my boss wasnt a PHB by any strech and I wasnt officially sanctioned. This brings me to the other major concept I'd like to include.

    What we need is an attitude of forgiveness, and a willingness to say shit happens and move on. I dont see one person, or one company that is perfect, or even close to it. Some try harder than others, but realisitcally mistakes will happen. If someone is willing to admit their wrongdoing and make an attempt to make it right, the only positive recourse is to forgive them. On a personal level this is pretty easy to implement. In the corporate realm, the situation becomes much messier because of the amounts of money involved. Yet if everyone would follow the simple rules of: Dont f*** anyone over, Take responsibility for your actions, and forgive others who have wronged you, I think that (trite as it may sound} the world would be a better place.

  • Okay, I should apologize a bit; it was in reading your specific comment that my temper finally broke and I decided something needed to be said. I wasn't talking about JUST you, and not all the observations were pointed at you. Most of them, in fact, were not. The specific comment that I really wanted to make was that blaming other people for thin skins does not change the fact that you are hurting them. If you took a gun to them, you couldn't blame them for not wearing body armor, now could you?

    While I'm at it, I should also apologize because the original post wandered too much. It needed to go back through the typewriter again. Unfortunately, /. isn't well-suited for good editing. This silly text box is horrible!

    As far as your actual reply goes: your statement that words do not hurt is not true. Words hurt worse than anything else. If you are not aware of that yet, then you need to do more introspection. If attacks didn't hurt, why would people defend themselves so vociferously? Why would all these silly flamewars get started? If words didn't hurt, arguments wouldn't exist. We would have discussions instead.

    Look... you may not like Katz. But your attacks make the problem worse, not better. I have been reading him a long, long time, since the early Wired days, and he has had some amazing insights and done the geek community a lot of good. When you -- and all the people like you -- start flaming on him when you see something that doesn't meet your standards, all it does is throw him off balance, and makes his writing worse.

    Think about it a minute. If you are having to be defensive against people, it is much harder to think and see clearly. Good writing, and good commentary, is usually about being very quiet and letting the observations flow. Attack-flamers hamper that flow. When you blast him for being a 'gasbag', you help insure that the next column will also be gasbaggy. One can't write well from inside a shell, and attacks like yours would force anyone to withdraw into one at least partway.

    You are helping cause the problem you complain about.
  • You stupid idiot. So if you are able to break into someone's house and steal their possessions then it is okay since you are able to do it?
  • A lot of people have been questioning if a code of ethics is needed for programmers, but apparently my university has decided there's no question about it - starting this fall all computer science engineering majors are required to take CSE 1111 - Introduction to CSE which is basically two classes - the first half of the semester it's basically "Computer Ethics 101" and the second half it's basically "Problem Solving 101".
    It's interesting to see what is being taught as ethical and what is being considered someone who's already had some "real world" experience and such I'm able to step back from what's being taught and examine it to see if I agree with it - but there's countless people in this class who know next to nothing about computers and are taking all the lectures and readings on computer ethics as gospel...
  • True - Where there was no sherrif to get the bad guys you had a mob go do it instead. Only problem is that sometimes they got the right guy, sometimes not. But hey, I guess that is still true in our legal system sometimes, but being an optimist I'd say less often than the mob-ruled justice system.
  • "
    "But I think it's reasonable to say that the degree I have makes me better at my job than someone who did not go through the motions and fundamentals of how it should be done in the first place."

    The fact that you were intelligent, motivated, and disciplined enough to learn how it should be done is what makes you a better programmer, not the fact that you have a diploma.

    That goes without saying. The diploma, in and of itself, is a piece of paper. Much like a driver's license. It's proof of having gone through the motions of attaining a level of competency... It's the level that's up for debate though, isn't it? :)

    Try asking the average CS graduate what "multiple inheritance" means; you get a lot of blank stares.

    You've got to be kidding...

    there are advantages to having done advanced work in fields other than CS

    Oh certainly. Here I agree whole-heartedly. I may not be a steadfast believer in memetics, but I do think that ideas tend to mutate, and our field of choice benefits greatly from our, seemingly unrelated, experience.

    Many times, these discussions of 'value' of a CS education, take on the angle that the education in the field is useless... I strongly disagree. However, such education is all the more valuable is buttressed with humanities, arts, or other sciences.
  • In the early days of computer programming, there was no such thing as a CS degree; all programmers were self-taught. This didn't stop them from writing brilliant programs, and solving many of the major problems in computer science

    True, but a vast majority of them were also engineers or scientists by discipline. They were all educated as such, and followed that ethic.

    The CS curricula of most schools are not as strict as the engineering and 'hard science' disciplines, and this allows the hacks (in the derogatory sense) to squeak through. Also, it's always possible for someone to get a Ph.D. without ever having an original thought. But there is, on average and IMHO, a benefit to the formalism of education in the CS field.

    Even with my CS degree, I am probably not as talented/gifted/experienced/insightful as many non-CS educated programmers out there. But I think it's reasonable to say that the degree I have makes me better at my job than someone who did not go through the motions and fundamentals of how it should be done in the first place.

    Much as someone with no artistic training can go on to be a great artist on talent, but the average someone who went to art school can paint better than the average someone who didn't.

    Unless of course, you're claiming that programming is so trivially easy that anyone can do it, and do it well, through self-study alone.
  • Check out this link for someone who's actually knows what they're on about as opposed to random ramblings...
  • by binarybits ( 11068 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @02:20AM (#1706729) Homepage
    bloated software

    One person's "bloat" is another's "feature." Yes Windows is bloated, and they're getting their asses handed to them in the server market, where bloat is not acceptable. But for most home users, Windows is still a better choice than any of the non-bloated OS's.


    This may be news to you, but not everyone has an unlimited supply of money. Winmodems are cheap. Yes they are also cheap hacks, but they get the job done.

    two meg video cards

    WTF? How is it unethical to sell this? Again, not everyone has unlimited money, and a 2 meg video card is better than a 1 meg video card.

    14 inch monitors

    So now it's a crime against humanity if you are forced to look at anything smaller than 17 inches? I'm looking at a 15-inch monitor right now, and I don't feel explointed.
  • yer.. the IEEE are a good example of ethics.. would you like to code a software network card.. oh that'll cost you a few k for the standard. How many standards do they have? Millions?
  • by timothy ( 36799 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @02:22AM (#1706731) Journal
    If the question is, "Ought people behanve ethically?" then the answer is obvious -- because 'ethically' is how we define the way people ought to act.

    If the question is "Should people require licensure to legally create / sell software, and should that licensure be predicated in part on a loyalty oath to a document we'll draft some academics to draft using all of today coolest buzzwords and moral posturing?" the answer is a big flat No.

    By naming a few reasons why that No should stand, I do not mean to imply that this list is complete, but ...

    • It would add barriers to entry to one of the only careers / endeavors that is open to those who study it. Why burden something that is currently open to people of a wide age range, and does not (inherently) discriminate based on looks or sex with layers of officious officialdom? "Mmmm, guilds."
    • Attested-to codes of ethics are about as useful and meaningful as ... what? Confessions to the Spanish Inquisition?
    • The existence of codified codes of ethics is one thing, but the expectation that people should ssear allegiance to a particular one increases the development cycle of each individual's code.

    As a note, when my mom went to med school, her school (Johns Hopkins) specifically did *not* feature the Hippocratic Oath. Doctors who wish to profess that oath are still free to, of course, but would you really think your doctor was more or less ethical based on whether they publically declared their allegience to a given code?


  • Actually the west was more ethical than many would have you beleive. There was little law so people had to live by ethics, the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. If you have law you sit around and think about getting around it or away from it. Ethics are something you embrass.
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @02:22AM (#1706733)
    The reason for buggy code is simple: most programmers have never had access to state of the art debugging software and tools. We're out using emacs, vi, gcc, and libraries we pull off freshmeat. For the windows side - they're stuck using buggy MFC code. The state of the art.. well.. isn't.

    We need good tools to do good work. It's a miracle that we have an abundance of stable free software despite not having access to these tools. That should speak volumes for the capability and skill of the current generation of programmers.

    Now, on the issue of ethics - programmers, and geeks at large, already have them. They just don't match up what society wants us to have as ethics. We mistrust authority, promote decentralization, and only offer respect based on competence - not authority. As such... it's only natural that people on the other side of the fence would be clamoring for changes.

    Be careful what you wish for - you may just get it. If we don't have programmers exploring all the details of programmable systems - both the good and the bad, we leave ourselves in a kind of technological dark age. Certain knowledge is forbidden, and those that pursue it are persecuted and jailed. One might argue we're getting close to that now...


  • ...does Programming want to become a profession rather than just a job? Professions have several characteristics that separate them from jobs, and professionals are generally accorded more respect than non-professionals. For professions in this discussion we are looking at vocations such as Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Clergy, etc... Professions generally have the following characteristics: - Require some degree of higher education - Members are certified by other members of the profession, usually guaranteing some minimal level of education and usually showing that they have passed a compentency test of some kind - Members have a code of ethics enforced by other members of the profession I believe there were some others but they escape me for the moment. The result of this is that if you are a member of a profession and say "Hey, I can't do this I have an etical problem with foo" you are probably going to get a lot more attention about it than a fry cook saying the same thing....
  • Why do you think the "Essay" got on slashdot. Just another bit of "News" fighting the propaganda battle over the english language.
  • Computers are often badly - even unethically -- sold, with pricey and unnecessary equipment foisted on unknowing consumers

    Though he was starting get carried away with himself, he's right on this point. We know how to build reliable, balanced systems. That's what consumers want as well. But that's not what a PC is about; it's about crashing on a regular basis, having to run defragmenters and disk fixers, having to deal with video driver problems, not upgrading to the latest version of Word and having other people complain that they can't read the files you send them, and so on. For example, there's no reason the TNT drivers should be as unreliable as they are. When people pay $130 for a video card, it should be stable. And now before those problems have even been fixed, we're on to the TNT2, which also has unstable drivers. Racing to the cutting edge at the cost of reliability is not a good idea.

  • Yes, a well thought-out argument, with a thesis, clear structure, and supporting evidence, would be a refreshing change from Katz and his ilk.

    But that would involve doing some *gasp* planning and revising, which are much too square and boring for such a hip and clued-in character. Who has time to polish their logic, when worlds of distraction are only a click away?
  • It's not a Temple (Beit Mikdash), it's a Beit Knesset, or synagogue.
  • by Analog ( 564 )
    Is every black going to steal your car? Possibly not, but a black is more likely to steal it than a white.

    Only if the black is poorer than the white.

    Is every Native a lazy drunk? Possibly not, although it is well known that Injuns have a higher incidence of lazy drunkenness than other races.

    Not even remotely true. What is known is that most Native American people (along with many Asian groups) lack an enzyme that protects against the effects of alcohol. One effect of this is that they're more easily intoxicated by a given amount of alcohol than the average person of European descent.

    Is every white a redneck? Possibly not, although since being white seems to be a prerequisite for redneck status, it stands to reason that a white is more likely to be a redneck than a member of any other race.

    Since the term redneck has its basis in the sunburns suffered by white field workers, and in popular usage it has come to mean an ignorant white male, it would be difficult to find a redneck of another 'color'.

    I don't think the sterotype says that jews will try to _steal_ your money, I think the sterotype say that jews will try to _cheat_ you out of your money, and that jews in general are more concerned about money than other races.

    A stereotype that came about because Jews used to be forbidden from participation in most professions. However, due to the Christian prohibitions on loaning money, this was one of the areas Jews could get into - and they did. In short, the Jews were more concerned about money than other groups because it was one of the few things they were allowed to be concerned about.

    And please refrain from asking me to ignore relevant information

    And please refrain from ignoring it.

  • by whydna ( 9312 )
    ethics shmethics >=)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I thought this outline of the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct [] would be useful. Please see the original for more verbiage to expand each item.

    I think this ethics code, if widely followed, would help address many of the privacy and reliability disasters the crop up on the web these days. I would feel much more comfortable at work if I knew coworkers had this code in mind. Wouldn't the non-techno savvy people who might work with your programs and systems be a little more trusting if you pointed them to this code and said "I'm sticking to it"?

    Bob Minich - AC because he's lazy


    As an ACM member I will ....

    1.1 Contribute to society and human well-being.
    1.2 Avoid harm to others.
    1.3 Be honest and trustworthy.
    1.4 Be fair and take action not to discriminate.
    1.5 Honor property rights including copyrights and patent.
    1.6 Give proper credit for intellectual property.
    1.7 Respect the privacy of others.
    1.8 Honor confidentiality.


    As an ACM computing professional I will ....

    2.1 Strive to achieve the highest quality, effectiveness and dignity in both the process and products of professional work.
    2.2 Acquire and maintain professional competence.
    2.3 Know and respect existing laws pertaining to professional work.
    2.4 Accept and provide appropriate professional review.
    2.5 Give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of computer systems and their impacts, including analysis of possible risks.
    2.6 Honor contracts, agreements, and assigned responsibilities.
    2.7 Improve public understanding of computing and its consequences.
    2.8 Access computing and communication resources only when authorized to do so.


    As an ACM member and an organizational leader, I will ....

    3.1 Articulate social responsibilities of members of an organizational unit and encourage full acceptance of those responsibilities.
    3.2 Manage personnel and resources to design and build information systems that enhance the quality of working life.
    3.3 Acknowledge and support proper and authorized uses of an organization's computing and communication resources.
    3.4 Ensure that users and those who will be affected by a system have their needs clearly articulated during the assessment and design of requirements; later the system must be validated to meet requirements.
    3.5 Articulate and support policies that protect the dignity of users and others affected by a computing system.
    3.6 Create opportunities for members of the organization to learn the principles and limitations of computer systems.


    As an ACM member I will ....

    4.1 Uphold and promote the principles of this Code.
    4.2 Treat violations of this code as inconsistent with membership in the ACM.

  • Katz draws grand conclusions from little evidence.
    How come he's fixated on the warez-ification of that buffy episode, anyway?
  • Actually, dumbass, unauthorised copying IS stealing and there is EVERYTHING fscking wrong with it.
    Theft means taking something away. If I copy it, you still have it. Violating copyright law IS illegal, MIGHT be unethical, but is NOT the same thing as theft. Legally it isn't considered theft, it's "copyright violation" and the word "theft" didn't even enter into it legislatively until the fairly recent NET act. (No Electronic Theft).
  • You're right; it's hard to become a practicing physician, and this probably does raise the cost of care. On the other hand, would you really want it another way? As it is, there's some damn incompetent docs out there. If they got through, imagine what the ones who got screened out were like.

    But this is why we need more competition in the field of medical certification. It may be that the standard set of requirements is testing and teaching the wrong things. Perhaps some of the things in the standard medical curriculum are better left to specialists. Perhaps there needs to be an ongoing rating system whereby doctors are rated for their performance every year. Perhaps there's no way to keep doctors from being incompetent, and the regulations are just driving up prices. I don't know, but that's the point: we need competition and freedom of choice so we can see what types of training works best. As soon as the government extablishes a set of standards, that process is short-circuited, and you're stuck with whatever they give you. That's a bad thing.

    As for the amount of work necessary to become a medical student, that would likely continue to be true in a free market. A doctor who gets his patient killed isn't going to stay in business, and consumers will likely start demanding credentials up front. So you still won't be able to come right out of high school and make money as a physician. But the fact that becoming a competent doctor is difficult does not mean that it needs to be as difficult as the current requirements make it, nor that every doctor should go through the same course. The hardships you've endured to become a med student may not not have all been necessary to make you a good doctor. And if not, it's wrong to force you to go through them.

    And in a free market, doctors would still get paid well, no doubt about that. And in fact, the really good doctors might even get paid more, as patients would be willing to pay a premium for their services.

    So don't confuse government requirements with medical requirements. The fact that the government says that all doctors must do X, Y, and Z does not mean that that's what it requires to become a competent doctor. It may be that med school could be shortened and simplified without hurting the quality of care. If so, the medical profession should have the freedom to try it and find out.
  • That's got to be the dumbest example know to man. I don't have sex with three year olds because: a) they're only three and they probably don't understand the concept.
    B: They're only three and I would go to jail.
    C: They're only three and they are not sexual mature.
    D: They're only three and...well they're only three years old for shit sake. I'm not discriminating, I'm using common sense and good judgement. I don't have sex with the same sex because I prefer the opposite sex. I'm not discriminating, I'm exercising my right to choose who I have sex with, dumbass!
  • Lots of good reading and some hot spots that caught my attention. Quote: "geeks and nerds routinely brag about their software snatches..." Sounds reasonable to the average consumer computer user who think geeks have greasy hair and live in a dark room in front of a b/w monitor, but hell, Big Evil Software Companies make stealing an art. No need to brag, they just do it!

    Ethical programming might include giving credit where credit is due, reliablitity, and let me add security in operating systems. (Ah yes, encryption: they don't sell cars without locks, and would you go traveling around the net without? Got anything to hide?)
  • And a gun gives me the ability to shoot "whatever the fsck I want". Does this mean I *should*? Does the ability to make it *right*? Negative.

    And, actually, there *is* "a fscking thing [I] can do about it". I can vote for congresspeople who will pass laws -- at least in America -- that will give law enforcement the power to stop you from copying. The Constitution *can* be ratified. The fourth amendment *can* be repealed. The freedom from search and seizure *can* be taken away from you. Laws *can* be passed making encryption illegal, and they can be enforced. If I want to go further, and "deal with it" myself, rather than by proxy through voting, I can continue my education in computer engineering, graduate, and join the NSA. If Echelon can't actually do everything we think it can, I *can* help it do more. As a spook, I *can* help the United States continue the apparent trend of treating the world as a playground for our military, so that, eventually, all of the world will have either been annexed or have become a "satellite nation", so that the aforementioned violations of privacy reach you whereever you are, Mr. Anonymous Coward.

    However, I hope I don't have to. I feel that everything I just named off as thing I *can* do about it are wrong. But, as you seem to think, if it *can* be done, it obviously is not only acceptable, but RIGHT. And all of those things I just said *can* be done. Which means that you must think they're right. Which means that you won't complain when they haul you off to Room 101. And which means that you will love Big Brother.

    Grow up.
  • can someone give me a link to the first story that this guy says this is the second in a series but i don't see any way to find the first...
  • whitespace can be your friend :-)
  • I am constantly bombarded by absolutely idiotic questions, from users, where I work. "Why can't my computer make my morning coffee" type questions. A little education on the part of the general public and average user, would go a long way in eliminating alot of mis-conceptions regarding what a computer can and can't do. As citizens of the 21 century, these people have an obligation to their employers, as well as themselves, to get up to speed with todays technology. Until then, we will continue to have people take advantage of other people by using their technological edge. The guy who wrote this article whines entirely too much.

  • If you want to make sure that your doctor is competent, go to one with a good reputation. There's no reason to force every doctor to go through the same cookie-cutter liscencing process. It's largely a means of restricting the supply of doctors so their pay is higher. There are a lot of tasks that could be handled by a doctor with less training than is currently given (like routine checkups.) Liscencing of doctors is bad, just like liscencing of software. If people want assurances that a doctor will do a good job, private firms can provide testing and certification. But having the government do it is a bad thing.
  • I do agree that ethical behaviour is important, it is what keeps society together; at least to some meassure. However, Katz has made broad asumptions about the profesionalism of the people that produce the sw that we use, without discriminating on wether the sw is open or shrinkwrap or industrial. There are big differences between them, as well as between the people that produce or sell them. It seems that Katz has not noticed this.

    To me, it seems that the open community has done a great job of self regulating; of adhering to a high standard of respect to their fellow coders and to the users of their efforts - ethical behaviour. I have not seen evidence of the contrary. Lets also not forget that programers that work in a sw shop for shrinkwrap sw are seldom in control of the product. The control of the sw in these cases is the realm of the greasy marketer/bussiness person, undoubtedly, a lower life form. For these we do need some form of written code and accountability. (imho)


    Software Engineer.

    Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving in
    words evidence of the fact.
    -- George Eliot

  • Wow. It actually took to this post for someone to finally slam Microsoft. You guys are slacking... or are we getting all ethically warm and fuzzy?

  • Actually, although 'Landscaper' need only be bonded/insured, 'Landscape Architects' need to be licensed. Also needing licenses are Professional Engineers, Professional Land Surveyors, etc.

    With the advent of the licensing, many then need to have so many hours of 'Personal Development Hours' every year, and need to have a couple hours of classes on ethics every few years.

    Presently, I have a BS in Civil Engineering. I could go out there and do the calculations for laying a slab of concrete, but I don't even have my EIT (Engineer in Training) license, much less my PE. For all we know, however, my calculations may be just fine. Just as easily, I may overlook something, and the foundation may sink, break gas lines, cause a big explosion, and toast the neighborhood. I could, however, make some invention in my home, and sell it on late night TV and/or the internet.

    Software programmers aren't presently seen as doing life-threatening things-- yet a simple bug in a traffic light may cause both sides to go green at the same time, and cause a fatal collision.

    Being a programmer with an engineering background makes things even more difficult. Most out there are willing to do a contract to the letter, and release it. If there's something the client missed, they can re-negotiate the contract later, and come back to finish it. With the mindset that I've been blessed/cursed with, the program must work _before_ I release it to the client. (In the days before the internet, this was how most programs worked...there'd me months, not days of alpha/beta couldn't just download a quick patch off of a BBS or the internet).

    The rambling above may make you think I'm for, or against ethics and licensure in the computer industry. I'm actually for, but yet, I still realise that there are some concequences of it.
    Both sides to the argument can make valid points to sway opinions, so there is no one 'right' answer on the subject. However, as more and more people release crappy programs, so long as the intustry's lobbyists don't ruin the bills, chances are some form of licensure/bonding requirement will happen in the future.

  • "Don't get caught" might work for some people, but it might be much easier to specialize in an area one enjoys to learn and become very proficient. Else, your specialty could become lying and cheating. Want to follow the path of warez and you will find much company, but the path to shared code leads to much greater rewards.

    I remember a flamboyant cheater in college. He was excellent in math, but couldn't grasp the concept of electronics. So he cheated like hell. Goddamn, we were working for an electrical engineering degree and he had problems comprehending logic gates. So, cheated he did. He is now one of those managers at Walmart who initials checks and petty stuff like that.
  • Programmers frequently come up with products that are buggy, excessive, unworkable, unsupportable or overpriced. The industry's consumers are exploited and abused.

    I see attitude a lot (though rarely from anyone in the industry) and it just pisses me off to no end. This is as much a management issue as a "programmer" issue. How many of us have been forced to meet unrealistic schedules? How many of have been forced to ship regardless of whether or not it is done? How many of us have been forced to skimp on quality to "get it out". How many of us have been told testing was not important?

    Perhaps we should be more proactive about refusing to release in these conditions. (And I personally have, on occasion.) But I wonder if Katz knows some secret way to tell your boss he's wrong without negative consequences. Usually, you just get labelled as someone who is "not a team player" and the software gets shipped anyway.

    Then you get called on the carpet for the bugs in the software.

    In my last job, pleas that the software be tested got met with blank stares. "Regression testing? What's that!? I'm sorry, we have to get it there tonight, no matter what!"

    And people wonder why there are bugs...

    One of the reasons (the prime reason IMHO) that open source software is less buggy is that people who know nothing about programming aren't making the schedules.
  • there already are codes of ethics and professional conduct in this field. see, for example, the acm code of ethics [] for computing professionals (acm [] being the association for computing machinery). i'm sure that ieee [] has one as well.

    the only problem is the industry at large ignores them, and it's unlikely that anything short of legislative intervention will change that...

  • Yerp.. try and throw me in jail for writing viruses for example and I'll show you all the tekniq that developed from viruses. Position independant code, protection of memory, self modifying code, etc. Two anti-authoritarian slurs in the same sentence, I'm impressed :) Decentralization rulez.

  • First of all, the "!@#$! off JonKatz!" flames all over this thread certainly do reinforce the point about lack of civility online. Kind of nifty how that works, the more you criticize him in those terms the better sense his overall argument ends up making. And believe me, I've seen my share of incivility on the net lately -- anyone else around here read the Rialto, aka :P

    Secondly, one of the BIG problems with new technology as it is currently being applied is the de-humanizing of critical social service industries. My mother has worked for the state Department of Labor for most of my life. When she started, folks who needed to collect UI were known as "claimants," and they needed to show up to the local offices in person, have someone walk them through the benefit claims process, and generally were shown respect as people who happened to be in a difficult situation, unemployed.

    Nowadays, they've decided that "claimant" is degrading and these people should be called "customers." But you know what else they've done? They've closed down about half of the local offices. There is nobody to sit down with these people and walk through the process -- everything's on one of those damnable "press 1, press 2" phone menus at some 1-800 number. They don't generally see a human being unless something has gone wrong, and the number of misunderstandings of the whole process (either by people used to the old system who are back several years later and faced with the new, or by people who have never done it before and find it confusing) has gone up. This is NOT good.

    And re: the copying issue. Abuses are occuring on BOTH sides. Software developers are charging asinine amounts of money for their products (in some cases), and some people are just copying everything they can get their hands on, whether they could have afforded to buy it legitimately or not. The situation as it stands is lose-lose, and both sides get to claim moral high ground because of the extremes. What fun.

    Furthermore, Katz is absolutely right that the real issues and concerns are being ignored thanks to a bunch of hysteria about dirty pictures and bomb recipies. And the inappropriate responses to this hysteria are not well known outside of certain net-savvy, left-wing circles. (Must I bring up CyberSitter's blatant censorship of anything that disagrees with the company, rude responses to questions, harassment of, and censoring of feminist and pagan sites without telling anyone, not to mention occasional tendency to break source code that goes through TCP streams, yet AGAIN? It appears that I must. *sigh*)

    There ARE issues. They need to be discussed and dealt with one way or another, not swept under the rug or covered up by The Great Porn Debate.
  • "silly little asians"???, I must confess, I chuckled. Why are they silly? Your point is valid, you can choose to work around whomever you wish. But, if it's for prejudical reasons, I would prefer people kept those reasons to themselves. Cuases less racial tension that way you know.

    Child molesters are one of the lowest forms of life on the planet.
  • After having perused this thread, I am moved to de-lurk. It is a sin for which I am sure I will receive due compensation; but to mitigate it, I will confine myself to a point about ethics in the Physics field, and to a mini-rant.

    I earned my Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics last summer, after eight years in graduate school and four years undergrad. In that time, I do not recall a single instance of a professor even mentioning ethical behavior in research. Certainly no class in ethics was required (though they may have been offered, I don't remember). The only words on the matter I read were in one of Feynman's books, which stated that, as a researcher, one is compelled to disprove one's own conclusions as vigorously as possible. From this lack of attention, does it then follow that physicists are in need of a document to sign, in order to reinforce their dedication to the persuit of the truth? I argue "no": science in general is built upon an innate ethical underpinning, which inherits from its beginnings in Aristotle's Natural Philosophy. Perhaps because of its pedigree, there is no need explicitly to state a "Physicist's Credo." It is understood.

    Ethical violations nonetheless occur often in Physics: faking of data, stealing of ideas, backstabbing, politics; all the wonderful things that make us humans and not TeleTubbies. But I believe that there is inherent self-correction here, so that the unethical do not long remain.

    (As an aside, I will remain mute on the relative morality of Science and "pseudo-science", about which some small debate may arise.)

    The connection I see with "Technology" (could we come up with a broader term?) is that the same ethical skeleton is already in place. With some exceptions, techies do not plagiarize code; they do not write deliberately ineffective or destructive programs; they do not claim that their work can do what it cannot. Those delighting in such chicanery are quickly relegated to the fringes of techno-society, or jail, or both.

    To the guffaw, "What about Micro$oft?!" I reply: I refuse to believe that the engineers working on the guts of Windows 2000 are a bunch of evil, ignorant slobs (damning with faint praise? :) How their work is used, and the constraints on what that work may be, is arguably immoral. To extend the metaphor with Physics, those working on the Manhatten Project were incredibly smart, dedicated, upright folk, who put together one of the most wicked devices in the history of beings specializing in wicked devices. Would it have been more moral for them to refuse participation? I don't know; but, I think some separation between the individuals and the gestalt in which they swim is necessary.

    There are "pugwash" societies that address the ethics of scientific work in broader context. They are of relatively recent vintage (I believe). Maybe some similar organizations for "hackers" are due, if they do not already exist...

    To summarize, I don't feel that a pledge of ethics is any more required in technical fields than in Physics. Vigilance will expel the inimical, and I'm confident that the shady behavior of some software companies will lead to the same kind of outcry that spawned the EPA. Of course, somebody actually has to take the first step there!

    Now for the rant. I take exception to one poster's "let them eat cake" attitude toward the masses and their (our!) ability to buy computers and thus fully participate in the modern world. When my father was unemployed and my mother was working at McDonald's *and* doing home day-care, in order to feed five kids on blocks of government surplus cheese, a computer, even a $200 one if such existed at the time, was an unthinkable luxury. That kind of money goes to mortgage payments, to food, to utilites. And we were lower middle class. Do you really think that those in poverty, whose numbers are growing not shrinking, *ever* consider buying a computer over basic needs? Can you tell me exactly how advertisers are reaching them? Is Microsoft putting up billboards in inner cities, or on reservations, or in Spanish? I don't know how to resolve the disparity in access to technology, but to deny it even exists seems to me ignorant at best and, at worst, willfully obtuse.

    Please forgive the length of this post; I now sink back into the ether, having (rather immorally) wasted some time on it while on the clock.

  • "It's hard to think of any other business with so horrid a record of abusing its customers. " Think the meatpackers of the Upton Sinclair era Think ATT Think Standard Oil of New Jersey Business ethics are the real issue here.
  • by Analog ( 564 )
    And since blacks are more likely to be poor than whites

    Actually, the single largest group of poor people in this country (US) are white. They're rural poor rather than urban poor, so they don't get much media attention, but there you go. Might be different where you're from.

    Injuns get drunk more easily than whites. Thus a higher percentage of drunk Injuns.

    I've been playing along with you so far because many people actually think the way you're talking, but this last is just too much of a stretch. Very few people are so ignorant that they will make that jump. Especially since statistically speaking (and this is where your fun lies, right?) most American Indians don't drink. In any case, it's been fun playing good cop bad cop with you. We should keep in mind, though, that satirizing the ignorant for their misconceptions probably isn't any more fair than the stereotypes they espouse.

  • Personally, I think that if you're going to lay down any kind of big money for a major purchase (computer, car, house, ... ) you should at least do some research so you're not completely lost. If you go in clueless, then you get what you deserve... Why should people have to be an expert to buy a product. If you go to the doctor and he says you need some kind of expensive procedure when you really don't is that OK because you didn't read up on medicine? What makes this worse in the computer industry is that most salesmen I have encountered know as much as the average consumer.
  • Do you think he writes like, one paragraph per web page that he visits and then does the relevency by pressing the back button on his web browser?
  • Every profession, once it reaches a point of maturity (I'll leave it up to the pundits as to whether IT has hit that sweet spot yet) establishes a set of customs or cultural norms that, if nothing else, help protect themselves from excessese and self destruction and help define their purpose for existance. The doctors have their Hippocratic Oath, lawyers their client-attorny priviledge, and the largest corporations a distinctive mindset. In fact this is a phenomenum that ESR has detailed quite nicely in his writings about the hacker community and open source development.

    The question is that if the computing industry is to move from being seen as the province of self-absorbed geeks and nerds, to the level of expertise and professional found in top-notch surgical teams (and I believe the level at the top of technical mastery of details is on a par), I would have to argue that a code of conduct be ennunciated so at least we can define a standard for members to be identified with.

    What would such a code for hackers be? Ultimately any moral, cultural or ethical code can only be self-directed, motivated by the social conventions of peers. One may note that many of the ideals in media (Star Trek, Star Wars, Asimov's Laws of Robotics, etc) have passed into popular language (e.g. Prime Directive) so there is some scope of encouraging people to be more like say Linus rather than XXXX (name your favorite peeve). As for some suggestions to get people thinking, I'd toss in the following

    1) Understand the hacker's code and why it exists
    2) Remember the history of the source before you
    3) Try not to delete or corrupt data, you never know when it might come in handy
    4) Avoid perverting code beyond the purpose for which it was designed
    5) Give attribution to hacks you borrows
    6) .... ???

    Cleverness for its own sake may be satisfying for the ego but ultimately, what defines a hacker and his/her purpose in life?

  • Is that like computer porn?

  • n. "Katz-O-fEl-E-a"
    One who rambles on without end, in the grand tradition of JonKatz.

    Seriously, I think that a part of the programmers code of ethics should be.

    We will not code or assist in the coding of any program which can be used to surveill anyone.

    We will not code or assist in the coding of any program that can be used to gather personal information about anyone without their consent.

    We will not code or assist in the coding of any program that forces a user to surrender privacy rights as a condition of it's use.

    We will not code or assist in the coding of any program that allows a computer to be remotely controlled or monitored without it's owner and user's consent.

    We will not code or assist in the coding of any program that forces a user to surrender control of the computer as a condition of it's use.

    We will make our best reasonable efforts to insure that our programs ship bug free.

    We will fix any and all bugs as timely as possible after a program is released and the bug is discovered.

    Ethics are important, coders are not robots, they have the ability to think for themselves and they SHOULD DO SO!

  • I'm surprised that Katz didn't bring up open source projects, which are largely driven by ethical considerations. He seems to see matters of ethics being largely ignored, but I think it's hardly that one-sided, and open source is one of the main reasons for that.

    BTW, on another topic, I am very tired of all the Katz flamers that turn up every time he contributes an essay. To be sure, no one is required to agree with him -- after all, I'm expressing a bit of disagreement myself. But the idiots who can't think of anything better to say than "Shut up" and "I hate you" are contributing less than nothing to the discussion.

    Why aren't these people being moderated down to negative infinity? If they can't be moderated into oblivion, then I fail to see any usefulness of moderation at all.
  • Yet the record companies - one of the world's larger cartels outside Colombia - were due some comeuppance for their arrogance, greed and control over music.

    There are times I think Jon Katz was held against his will at some kind of Rolling Stone re-education camp. Mentioning the recording industry and the Colombian drug cartels in the same breath would be laughable if it wasn't so offensive. What next -- comparing the fast food industry to the Shining Path?

    Katz needs to abandon the notion that those evil record companies are "The Man" and everyone else is being held down by them.

  • There's a lot about Katz's article that I don't like (and which dozens of other slashdotters will complain about, too, so why should I bother?), but I must disagree with this critique:
    He then proceeds to attack the industry for "abusing" its customers. This is also nonsense. The computer industry has been improving its product faster than any other industry in the history of the universe. So technologically, this is certainly not true.
    First, in the early days of the automobile industry, products improved and prices dropped exponentially, just as with the computer industry today. This "history of the universe" line is ignorant claptrap.

    Second, according to the Bad Software Web site []:

    • "By the end of 1995, computers and software ranked #8 in the Top 10 list for complaints to the Better Business Bureau, outdoing used car dealers. As sales increased, complaints increased. In 1996, computer-related complaints rose to #7 on the list."
    • "The software industry has been one of the worst for leaving callers on hold. A small study by Service Management International indicated that software companies leave callers on hold longer than any other industry studied, worse than government agencies, computer hardware companies, airlines, banks, utility companies, and others."
    If there were "lemon laws" to protect the buyers of computer products and services, like there are to protect car buyers, sellers might spend more time "improving their product" through better quality control and better usability -- rather than shoveling every feature that Marketing dreams up into the next release and shipping it as soon as possible, and then declaring "There are no significant bugs in our released software that any significant number of users want fixed" [].
  • Having been working as an engineer (not software for once) for three years where part of the professional code of ethics is "don't bribe public officials", and yet the financial disclosures that all the politicians file in my area show mucho 'contributions' from engineering firms, I've come to the conclusion that codes of ethics pretty much don't work. It isn't important or expediant.

    In the world of lawyers, their code of ethics is nearly a total joke. The advent of lawyers that show up on your doorstep 12 hrs after some public disaster is good enough proof of that.

    In the world of medicine, people die every day in the USA from doctors that are not interested in care, but instead on the 7.5 minutes they can 'give' each patient in an office visit. Sometimes the problems don't fit in 7.5 minutes... Having just had a relative die of non-care --no one took the time to figure out really what was wrong over 13 days-- while in an Intensive Care Unit, no one cares. As a result codes of ethics mean nothing and are worse than useless as it allows people to hide behind meaningless words created by people who haven't been there nor done that.

    As long as there is a 40% unfilled demand for people to drool over keyboards and pretend to be programmers & software engineers, then ethics, morals, and even legality will all mean much less than they should. Just read slashdot comments to see much of the underbelly of the industry.

    Codes of Ethics mean something if they are generally agreed apon. At the moment programmers can't even agree on the planet they're on, better yet how to really behave. Maybe someday... Certainly not now.
  • I realize that I have yet to participate in this discourse, but what a great argument! Anonymoous Coward and have a lot in common.

    Sake makes NightTrain look like regards to asians having a low if.
  • I think there's many more people in computing than in physics, so your sample size is just plain bigger. I will concede, thought, that there are piles of incompetant people in computing, drawn in by the demand, who have no business there. And when their incompetance starts showing, they often resort to being obnoxious in order to distract people.
  • This is an issue that I 've been pondering for a while now, and I'm glad it has been brought up.

    The net started out as most things do, a pure innocent with great potential. You had the wondefully
    easy exchange of information. The creators never anticipated the almost roman empiresque whoring
    of an entire medium of information exchange. But this isn't something new to the human race, take the

    • The automobile - Designed for the ease of transportation, but never in the wildest dreams did they

    • forsee the killing of 16,000+ people a year in drunk driving accidents, or it's use in drive by shootings
      drug deals, road rage...

    • CFCs - Designed for easy propellant of liquids such as hair spray, etc.. Didn't see it coming that it would
      rip the ozone a new round one.

    • Nuclear Physics - Einstein, one of the greatest men in the world... Created the formula that led to the
      killing of millions of people in Japan, but also almost unlimited power.
    It in the nature of humans to create. Sometimes they DO check themselves to see if what they are doing might
    have some consequences, but more time then not you can dream up all the side effects of a creation.

    The problem with the net is not only is it new, but in all it's smaller subcatagories of usability and new media
    it allows for RAMPANT disregard of moral and ethical values. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.

    You have to look at it in an individualistic nature. The net doesn't make bad people do bad things, people who
    are bad do bad things. People see an opportunities to do something new, and the don't question the "Well, is this right?"
    They just do it. When porn came to the internet, it wasn't the nets fault, it was unregulated, and rightfully
    so, but people saw a chance to take this new medium that has global reaches and let them do what they want to do.
    Porn, music piracy, warez.. You name it.. The anarchy like nature of the net is a true test of that philosophy...
    Will people, left to their own devices, do the right thing.. We would all like to say yes... But really the answer is
    an unappealing greyish of Yes and No's...

    Most people won't steal cars, but those same people have NO issues with stealing software. Why? Because they know
    that for the most part, they won't get caught, or they are "sticking it to the man".. It doesn't matter what justification you
    give it, it's just human nature. The roman empire was like that...

    Back in the day of the flurishment of the Roman Empire, it may have been a "democracy", but really only in name.
    The net is like the roman empire, only much much bigger, and moving much much faster, an anarchy that attempts
    to feign democractic ideals.

    I personally love MP3's.. I have 3500 of them. I know that this is the intellectual property of artists, and if they came
    to my door personally, I would glady give them what they wanted for their songs. But they won't... And I'm left with
    the option of paying the music-industry, a corporate pimp with no soul to speak of, or just pirating the songs... Well
    at first I questioned it.. Until I read some articles by artists who songs I had that said they believe in the MP3
    movement, they ofcourse need to get paid, but what they are getting taken for from the Music Industry leads them to
    believe that MP3's will allow artists a better medium to spread their music and culture and ideas, and then from
    there you can gain more levereage with a label, or just do the label yourself.

    If we are going to look at the lack of morals on the net we all have to look at ourselves because we are the ones using
    the net, looking at the porn, pirating software, downloading the mp3s.....

    The ONLY difference between the net, and the larger world is that the net doens't have policemen. The net doesn't
    have obvious consequences for immoral or unethical actions for the most part, and I doubt it never will, and the
    only chance we have a moral and ethical net is a fundemental belief change on the part of every human in the world.
    I don't see that happening. My suggestion is batten down your hatches, and get used to it.

  • Why are med students such fucking winers? Yeah, you deserve to make some serious money...but at who's expense. Medicine is a very OLD monopoly...and oh will fall! Personally, I don't give a shit about certifications or the AMA...because I can't even go to the doctor when I need to == no health insurance. Now, maybe if health insurance or care was not SO expensive, ordinary people would be able to afford decent care when they get SICK. And debt...for med school? There are so many loopholes to get out of paying student loans back, especially for crooked doctors. What are you worried about anyway? Your parents payed up, right? Most fucking poor kids can't afford to go to medical school...because they have to work AND go to school. Maybe the problem with our current system is the fact that you have to be RICH to become a doctor ( there are a FEW exceptions).

    Throw out the studid ass certification programs...see if I give a fuck. Maybe that way I'll actually be able to see a doctor.

    Another problem is that A LOT of doctors are in it for the money! That's why there are so many MALE doctors and almost no male kindergarten teachers. Maybe if people got into the medical profession because they actually wanted to HELP people...instead of being a bunch of Quincy-ass-Noah Wiley lookin'-ER watchin' punks...the rest of us could spen our money (and debt) on things like FOOD.

    I don't mean to attack you personally, Alik. The medical INDUSTRY just pisses me off...that's just my view. I suggest you quit worrying about $$$ and realize that you are a public servant!

    Doctors don't work THAT hard...get a fucking manual labor job for about a week then multiply by thirty years and see how comfortable your late night study sessions seem then.

  • Hey...wait a minute...I get it. Just because my name is ushirageri, you think I'm a Asian. My god, That's a shot!!! Ouch!!! No I'm not Asian.

  • H.L. Mencken wrote about the attempts to define a journalistic code of ethics. He had his usual fun with ridiculing the proposals, but he also exposed their real weakness: Journalists, unlike doctors and lawyers, are not usually their own bosses. Thus, their attempts to define ethical codes comparable to those which doctors and lawyers swear to obey are basically flawed.

    Ethical initiatives from the bottom up rarely succeed, in my experience. Ethical rot comes from the top down.

    If developers want to impose such ethics on the software industry, they must do one of two things first:

    • Convince the owners of software companies to sign on to a code of ethics.
    • Unionize, and use some of their subsequent negotiating power to push such a code through.

    Expect failure. Programmers don't generally organize that way, and managers don't care. Sorry, there is no other way.


  • > Online, cruelty and hostility are points of
    > pride, civility and respect rare virtues.

    >> heh. shut up katz. you're a fucking idiot.

    Nice one sunshine. Maybe Jon's got a point.

    Respect is earned, on the internet more so than anywhere else. Many see Katz as a poser, and so they give him no respect. Others respect him and his writing. That's just life. If katz is tired of people being mean to him, well either he should change or get used to it.
  • The reasons no one is ethical is that they can get away with it. Microsoft contiues to put out a crap product, year after year, but people dont care.
    Bargain basement PC's get cheaper and less reliable year after year, but people dont care.
    Our privacy is infringed on every day by databases and marketers, but people dont care.

    Code gets more and more complicated and less and less reliable, but people get it anyway becasue they dont care.

    People download MP3's and warez by the millions every day becasue there's no punishment. IT peole are going to get away with whatever they can, it's human nature.

  • A code of ethics for system administrators should be generated by open discussion. A code that comes from above will not be adopted in practice unless it matches with the highest desires of its constituents. Finding which potential tenets of a code have the most appeal can best be done in an open forum such as, well, here.

    "Ethics" and "Morals" are not the same; ethics are about what you do, and morals are about why. A code of ethics is only as powerful as the morality underlying it. It is not the case that we have a common morality on the Net.

    For instance, one of the tenets Jon [mailto] proposed was to keep a level playing field between Haves and Have Nots. He was really pushing a certain kind of morality that many might embrace, but many others would reject with equally grounded arguments. To me, equitable distribution is not central to the question at hand, and should be dealt with elsewhere.

    Nonetheless, a code of ethics built around the culture of the Net can succeed and is needed.

    Here are a few ideas. I think I have them arranged such that each tenet supercedes those after it. For brevity, I've left out a few "in general" and "except in cases of nuclear war" clauses. Sysadmins should:

    - Obey the law, and not tolerate crime
    - Steal nothing
    - Comply with other sysadmins and authorities
    - Comply with system owners
    - Keep confidentiality
    - Not peek without probable cause

    What Does He Mean by Allothat?

    - Obey the law, and not tolerate crime

    The first part of this should be obvious, but I list it anyway. A code of ethics extends law by being more rigorous than the law is. The second part, which will be controversial, I'm sure, is that sysadmins should report crimes that they uncover. I don't mean they should be snooping (see below); I mean that if they receive information that a crime is being committed on their system or another system, they should take whatever action is appropriate, depending on its seriousness. This is a thorny issue, but an anology to street crime might work: people generally don't report someone for double parking, but they will report a hit and run accident. They might tell a double-parked driver to move his vehicle - well, you get the idea.

    - Steal nothing

    Sysadmins must insist that Copyrights and software licenses are followed and respected. If you don't like the license, don't run the software. Horking any softwarez you want and installing them willy-nilly is a message to users that anything goes.

    - Comply with other sysadmins

    A sysadmin, when notified of a valid security issue at another site, should actively support the remote sysadmins when his or her support would be helpful. This has been standard practice on the Net since the early days.

    - Comply with system owners

    A sysadmin should let the owner of a computer system decide its proper use. He doesn't have the right, for instance, to sabotage the system merely because he doesn't like the use it's given by its owners. If he really has a problem with it, but there's nothing illegal going on, he can go elsewhere.

    - Not peek

    Sysadmins should worry about getting their work done, not with snooping into user's data.

    - Confidentiality

    Tell no one anything, generally. Sysadmins usually have access to information that is thought secret. Users will be less likely to use seemingly secure storage media such as floppy disks for their important and confidential data if they have confidence in system security and the trustworthiness of the sysadmin.
  • What the hell does being Jewish have to do with it? Please reach down and extract your head from your ass!

  • Most of this long-winded article had nothing to do with programmers.

    Insert Katz flame here.

  • bwahaha.. yer.. the music industry is really "melting down" over the 2% of music listeners who didn't buy music in the first place cause it would mean going into a music store that is full of "artists" (with accent on the 'i' so it sounds like 'ee') flipping aimlessly through compact discs that could be being used to store buffy episodes (well not really, cause their not burnable, but it's something you could hear Katz saying). The music industry has successfully told artists that this is the only way to make music and it is impossible for an artist to go out and get a day job. "Your music will suffer". Pfft.. "You have a gift and if we don't get all the money from your fans that you deserve it will go to waste" Pfft.. Get real jobs and make music on the side, like most of us who write code we like on the side.
  • Don't be too quick to dismiss ethics in any form. Sure, Jeremy Rifkin [] may be a gadfly, but consider the alternitive. You like your food pumped full of antibiotics and steroids so that steak can be bigger and your milk can be 10 cents cheaper and stay a day longer in the fridge?

    Computer ethics are lacking and this is why this topic needs to be discussed. Unless, of course, you consider today's commercial software to be high quality and provide you a secure future. Ethics just are a way to make us more aware of issues. Its education and its good.
  • yer.. maybe I can show up to net cafe's and get free coffee. "Oh, and I'm a programmer, here's my card" .. "ahhh.. come sit over here with the linux machines sir".
  • Another load of hot air that is a bit more serious than that gov't post from yesterday, but still ignores a lot.

    Anyone who reads this web page knows that the problems that exist in the computer industry (or any industry) are a lot more fundamental than a lack of some sort of written code of ethics.

    It all stems from human greed, which is particularly bad in this country, it's what drives the economy. Thus our economic system is to blame too. Any company has to keep pumping out new products, to keep profits up, otherwise you go out of business. I'm sure this idea and its relation to the computer industry has been discussed here before. Our economic system is immoral. Not much is likely to change until the econmic system changes too.

    Of course we're all part of the problem. When you release code under pressure from your boss and look the other way you're part of the problem. When you sit at home passively watching TV instead of getting out and doing something about it you're part of the problem. I'm as guilty as anyone on this count.

    Then again, you have to put food on the table, right? It's a tough decision to make, trying to fight a seemingly unstoppable machine.

    But those who made those tough decisions in the past are those who have made the most difference in this world....
  • it takes a special kind of mind to spot that one.
  • I don't really think a standard code of ethics is going to do us a lot of good. It's too hard for everyone to agree. So, here is some help for individuals who want to develop their own code:

    Step 1: Like anything else you need to decide what your ultimate goal is. What is the legacy that you want to leave behind? (if you care about such things.) Do you just want to take what you can? Do you want to give back as much as you take? Do you want to go the extra mile and give more than you took?

    Step 2: With your goal in mind from Step 1, make some decisions about what you feel is right and wrong. Don't let other peoples' morality lock you into a box when you make these decisions. Don't let anyone else shove their code of ethics down your throat!

    Step 3: Stick by your code. Even a code of ethics needs to be "patched" occasionally, but if you don't make an effort to stick by it then it's probably a useless exercise in the first place.

    Yes, these steps allow for people to say "I'm going to be an asshole and rip off everyone stupid enough to fall for my scams." But I don't think any code of ethics is going to stop a doctor, lawyer, plumber, programmer, basketweaver from doing what they want to do. On the other hand I think codes of ethics are important if you care about what effect you have on anyone elses' lives.

    Extra credit Step 4: If you have the balls, then set an example. Don't worry about how lame people may think you are. If you've done a good job developing your code then negative opinions won't make you insecure, and you may even be able to learn from them. I truly admire the people that have gone through with this step.

  • Ridiculous. What's wrong with programming at the CIA? Or what about information warfare with the Army? You might think these situations are unethical because of their military involvement, but most level-headed individuals realize such positions are needed in this day and age.
    Although I dislike what they do, virus writers are just as much "programmers" as the rest of us. Stop trying to regulate every aspect of life...
  • by jabber ( 13196 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @03:23AM (#1706809) Homepage
    "Dear tech support,
    I refuse to RTFM, I don't know what I'm doing, I can't use your software.
    Therefore, I'm reporting you to the BBB!!!"

    Yes, that's only one side of the coin, and the other is equally ugly. But...

    The quality of something is defined by the perception held by the customer. People expect cars to have 'glitches'. Peeling trim, creaky doors and burning oil are all part and parcel of buying a used car. Malignant problems are not.

    Many people, especially those who are not very knowledgable about the inner workings of computers or the process of programming, percieve computers as magical creatures, not far removed from unicorns. That, and their very own, household piece of rocket science. Folks who routinely do less-than-knowledgable things to their computers, and then wonder why the PC crashes without understanding the reason, walk away from the experience with the perception of poor quality.

    Much like a brand new driver who slams a car into reverse while rolling forward (fast) because it works on TV... They learn that transmissions are expensive, and no complaining to the BBB will change that.

    Software is much more forgiving. But one can still complain to the BBB about the computer that crashed and caused a loss of data - regardless of the fact that in all common-sense, the user could have prevented the event with informed usage.

    Yes, we all know that many software developers, especially the cutting-edge, smaller than 'big' ones, cut corners severely. They need the money, so they sell the product before it's ready.

    Many are more consciencious than this, but it is impossible to perform truly thorough testing. All user actions, and all software interactions, can not be anticipated. And making software bullet-proof results in either very limited use environments (embedded etc.) or piss-poor performance. So these folks, understandably, test for reasonable, average abuse. This is of course in the off-the-shelf arena.

    I'm a relatively informed computer user. I use MS products as amatter of fact and need, and frankly, my computer has not crashed (blue-screened, frozen, lost data) in years. I do not beat the crap out of it, I scan over the manuals.

    I change the oil and filters, I rotate the tires and do other routine maintenance, and my used car runs just fine.

    Finally, yes, there are scheisters out there looking for a quick buck. They range from small time schemers, to concerted rip-off artists a'la Syncronys Softcorp. There are ignorant users out there who shout "rip-off" whenever the power goes out. If there were "lemon laws" on software, you'd have to have them on every little piece of consumer goods sold in the world. Consider the overhead.

    The reason this is not necessary is the fact that consumers learn and adapt. Once burned, you're less likely to grab for the stove - and Linux is doing great because of this. This is where 'reputation' comes in, and regulation goes out. Reputation may be built on marketting at first, but it can not last without a company's inner ethic and quality control. Outside control hurts reputation.

    Ow! I've now got blisters on my fingers!
  • This is an interesting topic that I could expound upon till I turned blue; however, it can be summed up more easily in a nice little paragraph.
    I go to UVic where they teach an "ethics" course. Now most the folks I have talked to agree on the following: its a floater course that you can get easy marks in if you just say what they want to hear. It may be an insightful course that makes you go "hmmm" but at the same time you may be considering a programming gig with a gambling/porn corp. The irony, no?
    To coin a phrase, or re-phrase what someone may have said before me...

    Ethics, you either got 'em or you don't; they can't be taught. Oh, and money can twist 'em.

    (at least not once you are older than typical "workforce" coder age)

    Za's Vid
  • Please read this Slashdot post [] by yours truly, and see if your opinion doesn't shift a bit.


  • by Malor ( 3658 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @02:53AM (#1706829) Journal
    It strikes me that people here are often, maybe even usually, rude. Your post is an excellent example. You even go so far as to blame it on OTHER people for being 'thin-skinned'. (!)

    Telling the truth is a good thing. Calling someone names, most of the time, is not. It amazes me how hostile people have become online, and yet how blind they seem to their own hostility.

    And he's right about the industry abusing its customers. Microsoft is our favorite example. They write code to make money: security and stability be dammed. Many people even praise them for this... making money, to these people, is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing.

    When does it become enough? Microsoft has on the order of 25 billion sitting in the bank. Why don't they take the time to really push the boundaries of what computing is a little bit? Do a little bit of what open source does -- improve computers for everyone, just because it's the right thing to do.

    It strikes me that one of the fundamental points of computer ethics is to write software that is secure. Almost nobody I know of does this with their programs. OpenBSD is *the only* operating system I know that has stressed security and code correctness from the beginning. (Netware may be another; it is quite secure, but I do not know what Novell's internal practices are like. )

    Respect and tolerance are two more points I think should be taken up by a great many more /.'ers. I have rarely seen such arrogance. Back when it was young, a couple years ago, the expertise you could find here was genuine, and the flaming generally was merited. Nowadays, it's just a bunch of angry teenagers who flame first, think second. The same expert people are here, but their voices are mostly drowned out in the clamor of the angry amateur wannabes. Lots of ego, not much to back it up.

    The hate that is so often spewed here will break up the open source movement before it ever really gets started. Each time you post something that blasts another person, you do a bit more damage to the community as a whole. Sometimes it's necessary, but there is absolutely no reason to blast Katz. It does no good, and causes harm to the overall community.

    Strikes me that most of the people doing it are falling prey to the exact same pettiness they almost universally loathe and despise in others, at school and in other RL places. 'Get out, you don't belong here, you're Not One Of Us'... implying that the person who is saying it IS.

    It is so very sad that the people who are tormented and abused most -- the geeks -- do the same thing to people who aren't exactly like them.

    "How can we be in, if there is no outside." -- Peter Gabriel

  • $200 is still way outside the budget of the vast proportion of the world's population, many of whom don't even have a telephone yet.

    That's true, but it has little to do with the actions of the computer industry. Third World countries are poor for a number of reasons, I think most importantly that their governments have screwed up their economies with socialistic meddling. But whatever the reason, I don't see what we can do about it. Sure, we can send some of our 486's to other coutries, but many of them don't even have electricity.

    Insisting on ethical manufacturing processes - e.g ensuring that 'Made in Taiwan' Reeboks have been produced by a factory that treats and pays it's workers fairly.

    I disagree. You have to remember that (unless they are actual slaves, which of course is bad) people take these jobs because it is better than their alternatives. If we boycott Reebok for giving people in Taiwan jobs, they will decide it's not worth the hassle and move their manufacturing to richer countries. Part of the reason why wages are so low in those countries is that it is expensive for companies to go there. There is little infrastructure for manufacturing, governments occasionally nationalize factories, the workers are unskilled, etc. Demanding that these companies raise their wages might help some, but it will also lead to some companies just moving their factories to countries with more skilled workers, stabler governments, and better infrastructure.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Please guys - take a step back here.

    I've been lurking on slashdot for many moons, and have seen the general tone of comment descending steadily over time. Does anyone else find it ironic that many of the comments on Jon's article are proving the point he was trying to make?

    > Online, cruelty and hostility are points of
    > pride, civility and respect rare virtues.

    >> heh. shut up katz. you're a fucking idiot.

    Nice one sunshine. Maybe Jon's got a point.

    Regardless of whether you agree with him or not, he's tapped out 10,000 words and obviously put a degree of thought into what he's written - (nice to see those question-marks have disappeared as well). If you don't like it, submit your own essay and show us how it's done.

    Another benefit of Katz's work, and others like it, is that it gives a point of view from an essentially non-technical point of view.

    Slashdot is read almost exclusively by white 20 year old males, who compile kernels just for the hell of it. But like it or not, the demographics of computer users are changing, and we are now in the minority.

    Our job as experienced members of the IT industry is not to try and alienate the users, but to educate them. OK, so someone wants to use hotmail instead of learning how to connect to a POP server. Why? It's easier. Why should novice IT users need to know about POP3 just to read email?

    There are 100 million people worldwide entering a domain that, up until a few years ago was entirely ours. We'd best adapt to that.

    And to end my rant - someone commented that mechanics don't have a code of ethics either. My question for you is "would you trust a mechanic?"

    Cheers... Mike
  • It strikes me that people here are often, maybe even usually, rude. Your post is an excellent example. You even go so far as to blame it on OTHER people for being 'thin-skinned'.

    I reread my post, and for the most part it didn't strike me as rude. My apologies if it was out of line. But I *do* think that people are too sensitive about being offended on the 'net. Words are just words. They can't hurt you. Part of free speech is taking the good with the bad. So I don't think the occasional flame is that big of a deal. I don't like it, but it's not going to keep me up nights.

    As for hostility towards Katz, his articles indicate that he is a gasbag with very little of value to say. That's not to say that he shouldn't be allowed to write his articles, but when what he writes is crap, I'm going to say so. I think this was crap.

    And he's right about the industry abusing its customers. Microsoft is our favorite example. They write code to make money: security and stability be dammed.

    This is a false alternative. In some markets, security and stability are very important, and Microsoft is getting their asses handed to them by Solaris, Linux, *BSD and others in those domains. In other areas, however, features are more important that stability and security, and so They are doing pretty well. A home PC is not the same as a production server. Engineering is about tradeoffs. Microsoft has written software that is buggy, bloated, but is also backwards compatible and has a lot of features. Is it what people want? The market will decide. Ultimately, writing good software and making money *do* go hand in hand. The market is changing so fast, however, that it is not yet clear what people really want.

    It strikes me that one of the fundamental points of computer ethics is to write software that is secure. Almost nobody I know of does this with their programs. OpenBSD is *the only* operating system I know that has stressed security and code correctness from the beginning. (Netware may be another; it is quite secure, but I do not know what Novell's internal practices are like. )

    There's a reason for this. Writing software as secure as OpenBSD takes time and money, and limits the things you can do with the OS. Home users running Mac OS or Windows simply don't have the same priorities as a sysadmin. Security is simply one tradeoff, and by no means does it automatically trump other considerations.

    Respect and tolerance are two more points I think should be taken up by a great many more /.'ers

    Respect and tolerance for people is a good thing. I'm not sure that mindless tolerance for ideas is, however. Many of the things that Katz writes are wrong, and I see no reason to beat around the bush about it. If I met Katz in person I would not be rude to him. I am not attacking him personally, but only the ideas he espouses. I think those ideas are not just wrong, but if put into practice would be destructive of the enourmous benefits of technology.

    The hate that is so often spewed here will break up the open source movement before it ever really gets started. Each time you post something that blasts another person, you do a bit more damage to the community as a whole. Sometimes it's necessary, but there is absolutely no reason to blast Katz. It does no good, and causes harm to the overall community.

    I don't think so. I didn't "blast Katz." I blasted his nonsensical ideas and mediocre writing. A healthy community requires disagreement and debate. My objections were not ad hominum attacks or mindless flaming. I gave specific objections and reasons for those opinions. Perhaps I should have been more civil, but I did not "spew hate." I spewed disagreement.

    Strikes me that most of the people doing it are falling prey to the exact same pettiness they almost universally loathe and despise in others, at school and in other RL places. 'Get out, you don't belong here, you're Not One Of Us'... implying that the person who is saying it IS.

    Where do you get that? I don't think I ever said that or anything like it. My annoyance with Katz is not his non-geekness, but his long-winded leftist puff pieces. That has nothing to withhim personally or his status as a non-geek. It has to do with him writing bad essays. That's all I mean.
  • by chuck ( 477 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @01:52AM (#1706846) Homepage
    The Computer field is not fundamentally different than any other field. Every career, whether it is medicine, automobile repair, livery, or telephone operator gives you an opportunity to choose whether to help, or to harm someone.

    Doctors could get away with quite a bit, if driven to evil. (I think I saw a piece on one of those prime time news shows some months back.) Auto mechanics can make up repairs, or lie about maintenance schedules to take extra money from an unsuspecting customer. Even the telephone operator, who for some reason decides he doesn't want to look up my brother's number in Cleveland, and instead tells me there's no record and hangs up, has a potential to harm in some small way.

    Does there need to be a code of ethics for auto mechanics? Does there need to be a code of ethics for telephone operators? I don't think so. We can get along quite nicely with one big code of ethics for everybody: ``Don't f*** anyone over.'' At least that's my code of ethics. It has worked for me no matter what field I am working in. The only thing it requires is a little bit of thought, that that is what is lacking.

    Don't start thinking this is a new problem, either. People have been evil and opportunistic since the beginning of time. Just because we have a new advancement in technology, doesn't mean that today is any different than any other point in history. If you think you live in some kind of ``special time'' or ``golden age,'' you're just fooling yourself.

    So come on, everybody. Just be nice.

    Also, I have a hard time believing that you can teach ethics. That is something that can only be learned by example.

    • Chuck

    PS: Was this supposed to be some kind of review?

  • You're the med student, so my apologies if some of the specifics here are wrong. But I think the basic ideas here apply to many fields that involve highly skilled and important work.

    I don't think having consumers "require credentials" would really help.

    The credentials wouldn't be simply a list of the subjects the doctor has studied. It would be a recommendation from a nationally trusted doctor certification firm. Firms would set up testing programs and/or collaborations with schools in order to insure that anyone who is certified by XYZ certification agency has a certain competency. Consumers would then ask to see *those* credentials, which would be simple enough that they could interpret them themselves.

    Also, how exactly, then, is the current system unfree? The only real regulation on it (aside from the FDA, which is necessary --- doctors do not have time to evaluate drugs themselves) is the licensing standards, plus laws which prevent physicians from doing evil things.

    There's no reason that the FDA has to do the certification of drugs. UL certifies electrical devices. The SAT and ACT certify students. There are lots of private organizations that do certifications, and in the absence of government regulation more would exist. Doctors wouldn't have to evaluate every drug. He'd only have to pick a couple of ceritification agencies he trusts and subscribe to their recommendation service.

    The other area of medicine that is unfree is the restrictions on health insurance. There is a long and ever-growing list of things that health companies may not or must do. The result of this is that, combined with the tax credits I mentioned earlier, patients are forced to pay for services they may not want, and are subject to HMO bean-counters to boot. That's why I think we need fee-for-service medicine with insurance only in catastrophic cases. It gives control back to the patients, who can then find a doctor they trust and make their own decisions with his input.

    I think it's important to realize that most people don't directly pay for their medical care. They do it via insurance, or Medicaid, or some other program. Such a program is generally not willing to pay anything more than it has to. Thus, premium care will be (as it is now) reserved for those who pay out-of-pocket. A free-market system will heavily favor the wealthy. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that, I'm just pointing out the implications of your model.

    That's a big part of the problem: no one pays for their own care. Scaling back medicare and extending the health care deductions to employees as well as employers would give you more people control over their own care. People *do* pay for their own care now, they just don't have much say in how that money is used.

    Personally, I feel that the profession does have that option. The requirements for licensure mainly revolve around the standardized USMLE tests. The tests are designed by committees which consist almost exclusively of doctors. The licensing boards tend to also be composed almost exclusively of doctors. So, it's physicians who say what makes a good physician. Also, consider health-care laws. In general, the AMA tends to get what it wants when it lobbies, because even Congresspeople tend to trust physicians.

    That not really the freedom to try new things. The fact that doctors are making the decision does not change the fact that the entire country (or at least each state) has a single solution imposed on it by those doctors. They might be making a good decision, but they also might screw up. And a competent doctor who disagrees with the conventional wisdom can be thrown in jail for practicing medicine differently from his peers.

    The point being that *individual* doctors do not have the freedom to try different ways of doing business. They are forced to learn a specific body of medical knowledge, and practice medicine a specific way. For the most part, that probably is fine, but the majority can be wrong, and I don't want the majority stifling the new ideas of a new innovator.

    The standards are at their current level because a whole bunch of doctors believe they ought to be there. I've never heard a physician argue that they should be lowered. Admittedly, they might just want to make me suffer the same way they did, but if your goal is to let the medical profession experiment with educational techniques, you're already there.

    "The medical profession" is not a monolithic body, and a cartel of doctors is no more desireable than a cartel in any other industry. Individual doctors or medical institutions do not have the freedom to try new curricula or new procedures without the approval of the FDA and various other regulatory bodies.
  • Read the subject. Then read it again.

    I've a long standing set of rules which I attepmt to live by, formulated over a course of years through analysis of as many various "codes of ethics" as I could find data on. I've read religious texts and secular philosophies (though these are not so different). The bottom line is that my studies of what people, both today and in the past, have deemed as ethical/right/appropriate/honorable/moral all comes down to respect. It's my holy grail and my concience. There is no situation I've yet found where the application of respect does not lead to the appropriate choice. Determine the context and then behave in the manner that is most respectful to all involved parties.

    This theory, which is first and foremost of my Three Rules for Living Right aoolies just as readily to the issues raised by Katz as any other. If a particular action is disrespectful, it shouldn't be performed. For example, writing buggy, inefficient software and releasing it under pretense of stability is disrespectful to the user. Thus, developers ought to endeavor to write clean, efficient code or at least wait for stability before relaese. This is but one example. See if you can apply it more widely. I've come to live by this code and my experience tells me it works.

    I hope this has provoked some thought. Feel free to reply below, or by personal email, though if you flame me I'll just delete it - keep it, well, respectful.

    Kerry Benton

    p.s. Three Rules for Living Right isn't a book I wrote or anything, just how I refer to the rules I live by. Just so you don't think I'm plugging a product.
  • This has been discussed ad nauseum when we talked about the value and validity of CS degrees [] and the concept of Software Engineering [] as a degree and a work title.

    We came to the conclusion, that in situations where the work done may, if not done properly, endanger others (the definition of endangerment varies), then a title, a certificate, or a professional membership, is a Good Thing. Such a condition, by definition, carries with it a code of ethics (i.e. Professional Engineer).

    A landscaper doesn't need to have one, nor does a small-time plumber (though often they must be INSURED for the work they do). An architect, or large-scale engineer (think bridges, highways, municipal scale work) must be licensed by the state where they practice.

    With small-time software, Caveat Emptor, and long live open source!
  • Most of this, as usual, is confused and useless, but there are still aspects of ethical programming that are worth attention. Almost anybody trying to make a list ends up dumping all kinds of personal vendettas into it, so I'd suggest something simpler:
    • Do not do anything criminal
    • Do not do anything irresponsible
    • Do not assist anyone else in doing anything criminal or irresponsible
    • Do not behave like apathy and laziness is equivalent to being criminal and irresponsible: it's better for uncaring people to learn to care without assuming 'original sin' and a burden of guilt for choices they made when they were not competent to decide rationally for themselves.
    This basically covers most ethical problems, hopefully in a useful way. For instance, Microsoft are often irresponsible and sometimes illegal. Simply being a luser and using their stuff is not ethically wrong, but it begins to enter the picture as the consumer stops being an idiot. There is a level where 'I want MS to win and destroy everything else because that is the best thing for the world's innovation and progress!' can't be considered ethically wrong because it is simply insane- psychotic, because of the major areas of reality that this viewpoint flatly contradicts. Hence, such a person would need help rather than censure, and hopefully could learn a more sensible worldview, one that was grounded in reality. Finally, someone who was thinking, "I am aware that Microsoft behaves irresponsibly and sometimes in a criminal manner, but I want them to keep doing this because _I_ have invested in their stuff/their stock, so I would like them to commit crimes on behalf of my self-interest" would be ethically in the wrong, along the lines of sociopathy: it is normal to have a little more public interest than that. Maybe not a _lot_, but it is neither normal or healthy to be _that_ hostile to the needs and concerns of others.
    This is the primary value of ethics: it is a defense against sociopathy. It's usually possible for single individuals to gain greatly at the expense of others, but if this goes unchecked, the overall quality of society declines, even for the person trying to gain at the expense of society. There are healthy levels of gain that don't weaken society, and unhealthy levels that blight society. Ethics is the codification of guidelines that place society first and the individual second, so they are always likely to be relative.
    You could easily make an argument that mp3s are ethical because what is really being dealt with is a means of mass communication: though mp3s are widely used to violate existing intellectual property laws, they themselves are a mechanism for communication which is under attack by other mechanisms with major ethical problems (i.e. particular companies owning the means of communication, planned obsolescence, the auto-destruction of means of conveying information), and so advocacy of mp3s is a substantially ethical thing to do for society, arguably even at the expense of the intellectual property being violated- something that might not be reasonable to protect forever, in the same sense that books ceased to be highly valuable items when substantially cheaper means arose to copy _them_.
    You can't make a living as a scribe these days...
    Information is changing in significance, and the most important thing to keep in mind is to protect the new freedoms from being legislated out of existence. Any code of ethics for the computer industry would have to place communication of information above all else- that is the single most revolutionary change the computer era has brought us. Productivity? Ha. Ease of use? *ROFL*. Adding to the wisdom of the common man? *AOL*. But! How many of you have a friend in a country you don't live in? How many people _ten_ _years_ ago had a friend in a country they didn't live in?
    This is the new vision of society- it's McLuhan's wet dream of global locality, and it's immediately accessible, and for those with a willingness to expend effort, it is accessible at virtually _no_ cost. Almost anything will run 'telnet', and if you have that you are off and running, reading man pages and getting access to that information. Just because inner cities and third world countries do not _want_ 286es doesn't mean it's not a resource- anyone who's 'gotten by' with telnet knows how accessible the world's information is.
    Hence, it is ethically imperative to do everything possible to keep this connectivity from being taken away by entities with a vested interest in limiting it.
  • by Analog ( 564 )
    'Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt.", Lisa Simpson, Fox TV

    While quoting Lisa Simpson does have its amusement factor, please tell me you know that she (the cartoonist? actor?) was quoting Abraham Lincoln.

  • There's crime and dishonesty on the Net? Has the president been notified? It's almost like the net created a virtual community, almost like a city. We all know that cities don't have ethics problems, so why does the net? It must be those evil hackers!

    This sort of moralistic handwringging is a bit much for me. I posit that there are far more well behaved netizens than not. Bad business practices are not limited to the software industry. The net is a mirror of ourselves and if we don't like what we see maybe it's time to turn the computer off for a bit.

  • Wiggly wrote:
    The real question is not whether or not we should expect people who create critical systems (and not-so-critical) systems to abide by a public set of ethics or code of conduct, but why do we accept the fact that they currently don't? I'm a developer, show me a code of conduct I can agree with and I'll sign up. (Having said that I keep putting off joining the BCS (lazy))

    Well, what's stopping you from writing it yourself? And publically declaring "This is what I believe, and I pledge to so behave." (or whatever)? I'm not being a smartass -- I'm asking seriously: why would you expect someone *else* to write the code of conduct that you agree with better than you could?

    Whether it would be good for people to make their ethics public and explicit when it comes to their professions is actually a whole set of questions, not just one. For instance, would it be good for people to be pressured into signing on to some pre-determined set of ideals in a public profession of faith? I don't think so.

    "Voluntary" is all well and good, but I fear from many of the responses posted so far that people are seeing this not only as a Generally Good Thing, but as a good thing to be required, whether by universities or by the state.

    To take another tack ... Presumably, teachers of young children ought to believe that child pornography is wrong. Should we indignantly ask why it is that we accept that fact that right now they don't have to sign a document that says "I think child pornography is really, really, bad."? How convicing would such a declaration be?

    It's sort of like the Boy Scouts with the boy scout (pledge?) .. the things the pledge says may be good (I've read it but it's been too long to remember exactly) but if you know a lot of boy scouts who are shoplifters and cheats, just along for the free marshmallows and pocketknives, their pledge has been demeaned for you, through no fault of the pledge or the people who came up with it. So it isn't as impressive once it has been cheapened, and cheapened it would soon be.

    If this ethics declaration stuff (like 'self-condemnation' in the cultural revolution, I say) is widespread, soon the Venn diagrams of Naughty, Unethical Computer Programmers will overlap pretty well with the one of Computer Programmers in General, and this Computer Pledge of Allegience will mean only a lowered respect for the actual ethics of programmers, most of whom will of course probably be pretty good people.


  • Consider the simple example of breaking your leg. You will see an emergency physician, most likely, and be treated primarily by an emergency medicine resident. The X-ray may be taken by, or will be taken under the supervision of, a radiologist. If it requires surgery (like severe breaks do), you'll be operated upon by a surgeon and watched over by an anaesthesiologist. Finally, your general physician will supervise your recovery. That's a half dozen doctors. You may not even meet half of them (the surgeon, anaesthesiologist, and radiologist), much less establish a relationship.

    There are ways for the free market to handle these problems, however. One example would be that hospitals would have brand names and each brand would set certain standards for all their doctors. You could then specify that you want your medical care coming from XYZ hospital chain, and you'd be guarunteed a certain level of care.

    There are other methods as well. One would be that groups like the AMA would doubtless still provide ceritification, and you could refuse to go to any doctor who wasn't AMA certified.

    The "high price" of medicine is a function, quite honestly, of the free market in medical services. Doctors, given a monopoly on their profession, charge as much as they can.

    But how is this different from any other profession? All industries want to chage as umuch as possible, yet most products' prices stay relatively flat. Why are doctors different? The major reason that medical costs have spiraled out of control is precisely that we *don'(* have a free market in health care. let me elaborate:

    Doctors certification. As you said, doctors like to charge monopoly prices. This helps them do it. By setting very high standards, they exclude as many doctors as possible and thereby put themselves in demand.

    Other regulations. The government also controls, bans, regulates, and generally screws up many other aspects of medicine. For example, the FDA causes years worth of delays before a medicine can be introduced, and adds billions of dollars in testing costs. True, some of these tests would need to be done anyway, but a lot of it is just beaurocracy

    Medicare. This is probably the biggie. The government now pays more than a third of medical bills. This lead to doctors over-charging patients, since the bill was being paid by the government.

    Health Care restrictions. The government has an ever-widening list of things that all health insurance plans must fund. Many of these are things that patients would choose to do without if they were paying for them directly, but instead they are forced to pay for them indirectly

    Employer-financed health care. The tax code is structured so that employers get a tax break if they pay for their employees health care but the employees cannot get the same tax break if they buy it themselves. This is why so many employers are providing health care for their employees, which if you think about it doesn't make any sense. In a free market, most employees would simply get a paycheck, and they could purchase "fringe benefits" with the extra pay. This is also the cause of employees losing their health care coverage when they change jobs.

    As for the "private" certification boards in the US, the fact remains that their certifications have the force of law, so they are de facto government agencies.

  • by binarybits ( 11068 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @02:05AM (#1706887) Homepage
    This essay on "computer ethics" reminds me of "bioethicists." Bioethicists are typically techno-phobic wet blankets who go out of their way to scare people with obscure horror stories and far-fetched scenarios. The incredible values that biotechnology can bring are often ignored, and instead bioethicists engage in phony posturing about the impending doom of humanity if X new biotech breakthrough isn't controlled.

    Katz is doing the exact same thing. His concern for "computer ethics" does not seem to be so much concern for specific problems but a simple desire to pontificate on the evils of computers in general. A few specific issues:

    "hacking versus cracking:" I'm not sure what definition of "hacking" he's using, but the standard one on /. is simply clever and/or quick-and-dirty programming. I don't see how that's ever bad.

    He mentions the piracy issue and then has nothing of value to say about it. Yes it's a problem. So what?

    He trots out the "gap between the rich and poor" argument, which has been standard leftist fare with any new innovation for decades. But the simple fact is that computing for the masses is here. You can get a decent PC for under $1000. You can get a 486 for a couple hundred dollars. And those numbers will continue to drop.

    He then proceeds to attack the industry for "abusing" its customers. This is also nonsense. The computer industry has been improving its product faster than any other industry in the history of the universe. So technologically, this is certainly not true. And yes, some companies have lousy tech support. So what? Other companies have pretty good tech support, and if people really want better tech support someone will figure that out and offer it. This is simply an inconvenience, not an industry-wide crisis.

    The final "preoblem" he trots out is "incivility." This is just baloney. Apperantly some people have thin skins, and so therefore we need to tone down our discusions to avoid offending anyone. I say if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. There are a lots of moderated forums where you don't have to deal with any "incivil" people.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser