Morality and Ethics and Computers

There are many different sides to the discussion on moral and ethical uses ofcomputers. In many situations, the morality of a particular use of a computer is up to theindividual to decide. For this reason, absolute laws about ethical computer usage isalmost, but not entirely, impossible to define.The introduction of computers into the workplace has introduced many questionsas well: Should employers make sure the workplace is designed to minimize health riskssuch as back strain and carpal tunnel syndrome for people who work with computers? Can employers prohibit employees from sending personal memos by electronic mail to afriend at the other side of the office? Should employers monitor employees’ work oncomputers? If so, should employees be warned beforehand? If warned, does that makethe practice okay? According to Kenneth Goodman, director of the Forum for Bioethicsand Philosophy at the University of Miami, who teaches courses in computer ethics,”There’s hardly a business that’s not using computers.”1This makes these questions allthe more important for today’s society to answer. There are also many moral and ethical problems dealing with the use of computersin the medical field. In one particular case, a technician trusted what he thought acomputer was telling him, and administered a deadly dose of radiation to a hospitalpatient.2 In cases like these, it is difficult to decide who’s fault it is.

It could have been thecomputer programmer’s fault, but Goodman asks, “How much responsibility can you placeon a machine?”3 Many problems also occur when computers are used in education. Shouldcomputers replace actual teachers in the classroom? In some schools, computers andcomputer manuals have already started to replace teachers. I would consider this anunethical use of computers because computers do not have the ability to think and interacton an interpersonal basis.

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Computers “dehumanize human activity”4 by taking away many jobs and makingmany others “boring exercises in pushing the buttons that make the technology work.” 5 Complete privacy is almost impossible in this computer age. By using a credit cardor check cashing card, entering a raffle, or subscribing to a magazine, people provideinformation about themselves that can be sold to marketers and distributed to data basesthroughout the world. When people use the world-wide web, the sites they visit anddownload things from, make a record that can be traced back to the person.6This is notprotected, as it is when books are checked out of a library. Therefore, information aboutsomeone’s personal preferences and interests can be sold to anyone. A health insurancecompany could find out if a particular person had bought alcohol or cigarettes and chargethat person a higher rate because he or she is a greater health risk.

Although somethinglike this has not been reported yet, there are no laws against it, at this point.More and more data base companies are monitoring individuals with littleregulation. “Other forms of monitoring-such as genetic screening-could eventually beused to discriminate against individuals not because of their past but because of statisticalexpectations about their future.”7 For instance, people who do not have AIDS but carrythe antibodies are being discharged from the U.

S. military and also fired from some jobs. Who knows if this kind of medical information could lead employers to make decisions ofemployment based on possible future illnesses rather than on job qualifications. Is this anethical use of computers? One aspect of computers that is surely immoral and unethical is computer crime,which has been on the rise lately. There are many different types of computer crime.

Three main types of crimes are making computer viruses, making illegal copies ofsoftware, and actually stealing computers. Computer viruses have been around for a decade but they became infamous whenthe Michelangelo virus caused a scare on March 6, 1992. According to the NationalComputer Security Association in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, there are 6000 known virusesworldwide and about 200 new ones show up every month.8These viruses are spreadquickly and easily and can destroy all information on a computer’s hard drive. Now,people must buy additional software just to detect viruses and possibly repair infectedfiles.Making illegal copies of software is also a growing problem in the computerworld.

Most people find no problem in buying a computer program and giving a copy totheir friend or co-worker. Some people even make copies and sell them to others. Software companies are starting to require computer users to type in a code before usingthe software. They do this in many ways. Sometimes, they require you to use a “codewheel” or look in a book for the code. The software companies go through this trouble todiscourage people from making illegal copies because every copy that is made is moneythe company lost.One other thing that is just starting to become a problem is actual computer theft.

With the introduction of notebook computers came a rise in computer theft. The samequalities that make these computers perfect for business travelers-their small size and lightweight- make them very easy for thieves to steal as well. In 1994, 295,000 computerswere reported stolen with resulting losses totaling over 981 million dollars. 9 The amountlost to theft is about twice the amount lost in all forms of computer malfunction orbreakage.The biggest news related to computers lately seems to always be about theInternet. The Internet began decades ago, but is just becoming popular with the generalpublic now that technology is advancing and becoming cheaper.

There are many aspectsof the Internet that can lead people into discussions concerning morality and ethics.Much of the discussion of the Internet has to do with freedom of speech and theFirst Amendment. Most Americans probably believe that the First Amendment is moralbecause it is a national law. The problems arise because different people interpret the FirstAmendment in different ways. In most cases since 1776, the First Amendment has beeneasily defined and understood, but every once in a while, a situation appears which blursthe lines. The Internet has caused one of these situations.There is information on the Internet about everything from drugs to makingbombs. The United States government is trying to decide whether they should or shouldnot censor material on the Internet.

The government does not censor information like thisin public libraries, so why should it censor this information on the Internet? Thegovernment censors information like this on television though, so why wouldn’t it censorthis on the Internet? If the government goes strictly by the First Amendment, it would notcensor anything on the Internet because that would be a violation of free speech. It isobvious though, that the government does not always go directly by the First Amendment,so this leaves the topic open to discussion.Some people argue that this information would be dangerous if it got into thewrong hands. Much of the information in the world would be dangerous if it got into the wrong hands. Does this mean that we should perform background checks andpsychiatric tests on everyone before we give them any information? I believe it isunethical to withhold information from anyone. All information should be given outfreely. It is up to the individual to decide how to use the knowledge they have.

Many people complain that there is a large number of sick and demented people onthe Internet. There are a large number of sick and demented people in the “real” world as well. In fact, the same people who are on the Internet are in the real world, too. Thereis not much we can do about them except arrest the people who take their sickness anddementia too far and break the law.

Computers can be harmful and beneficial to people in many different ways. Theways computers are beneficial are the most obvious. Computers can entertain us, they cansave us time and energy, as well as saving us from performing boring and laborious tasks.Computers also can be physically harmful to people. People who use computerstoo much can suffer from vision loss, to varying degrees, due to staring at the screen forextended lengths of time .

They can also have problems with the muscles in their handsfrom typing so often. They can acquire back problems from sitting in chairs behind desksat computer screens, all day long.Some people say that computers allow humans to cheat.

They give us theanswers. They allow us to stop thinking. They believe it is unethical for the computers todo the work for us. These people may be right in that some humans allow computers todo work for them, but then if people did not make use of the new inventions and time-savers, farmers would still be plowing with a horse and we’d still be cooking on an openfire. Until computers exhibit actual artificial intelligence, though, we are still the onesdoing the thinking.

We program the computers to do what we want them to do.In conclusion, I believe that, in most situations involving computers, the moralityor immorality of an action is up to the individual to decide, as it would be if computerswere not involved. We have seen, though, that there are many instances in which peoplehave, without a doubt, acted immorally and unethically.1 Timothy O’Conner, “Computers Creating Ethical Dilemmas,” USA Today Magazine(September 1995) 72 Max Frankel, “Cyberrights,” The New York Times Magazine (February 12, 1995) 263 O’Conner 74 James Coates, “Unabomber Case Underscores an On-Line Evil,” Chicago Tribune(April14, 1996) 55 Coates 56 O’Conner 77 Tom Forester, Computers in the Human Context (Cambridge: The MIT Press,1989) 4038 Stephen A. Booht, “Doom Virus,” Popular Mechanics (June 1995) 519 Philip Albinus, “Have You Seen This PC?,” Home Office Computing (February 1996) 17