Dead Sheepdog: Ethical Dilemmas in Software Development

Separate from the essential complexity of moral reasoning itself, Walter Maner argues that computer ethics is so complex and unique that it constitutes a distinct field of ethical study, “With no satisfactory non-computer analog.”

Computer ethics has no prior analog because computer systems are uniquely complex, fast, cheap and out of control. If this argument is compelling for the more generalized topic of computer ethics, it is clearly even more true for the subtopic of software which is the most abstract, easily replicated and arbitrarily complex aspect of a computer system.

When faced with an ethical dilemma in software development, we are therefore confronted with a unique riddle within a riddle. Not only is the attempt to place an ethical context on our actions essentially complex, the immediate context and potential outcomes are obscured because the act of developing software — the very nature of a software system — is essentially complex.

Copyright ©, Ken H. Judy 2008, All rights reserved.

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