August 26, 2018
Yes, Developers Should Learn Ethics. But That's Only Half The Picture.Given the negative impact that some technology start-ups have had on society, and how prominent that sentiment is in the news these days, it's no surprise that more and more people are suggesting that the people who create this technology develop their sense of humanity and ethics.
I do not deny that many of us in software could use a crash course in things like ethics, philosophy, law and history. Ethics in our industry is a hot potato at the moment.
But I do not believe that it should all be on us. When I look at the people in leadership positions - in governments, in key institutions, and in the boardrooms - who are driving the decisions that are creating the wars, the environmental catastrophes, the growing inequality, and the injustice and oppression that we see daily in the media - it strikes me that the problem isn't that the world is run by scientists or engineers. Society isn't ruled by evidence and logic.
As well as STEM graduates needing a better-developed sense of ethics, I think the world would also be improved if the rest of the population had more effective bullshit detectors. Taking Brexit as a classic example, voters were bombarded with campaign messages that were demonstrably false, and promises that were provably impossible to deliver. Leave won by appealing to voters' feelings about immigration, about globalisation and about Britain's place in the EU. Had more voters checked the facts, I have no doubt the vote would have swung the other way.
Sure, this post-truth world we seem to be living in now was aided and abetted by new technology, and the people who created that technogy should have said "No". But, as far as I can tell, it never even occured to them to ask those kids of questions.
But let's be honest, it wasn't online social media advertising that gifted a marginal victory to the British far-right and installed a demagogue in the White House, any more than WWII was the fault of the printing presses that churned out copy after copy of Mein Kampf. Somebody made a business decision to let those social media campaigns run and take the advertisers' money.
Rightly IMHO, it's turned a spotlight on social media that was long overdue. I do not argue that technology should not require ethics. Quite the reverse.
What I'm saying, I guess, is that a better understanding of the humanities among scientists and engineers is only half the picture. If we think the world's problems will be solved because a coder said "I'm not going to track that cookie, it's unethical" to their bosses, we're going to be terribly disappointed.
Posted 6 months, 5 days ago on August 26, 2018