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As the computing industry grapples with its role in society, many people, both in the field and outside it, are talking about a crisis of ethics.
There is a massive rush to hire chief ethics officers, retool codes of professional ethics and teach ethics to students. But as a scholar of computing – and a teacher of a course on computing, ethics and society at Rice University – I am skeptical of the assumptions that what ails technology is a lack of ethics, and that the best fix is to teach technologists about ethics.
View - Solution - Government - Action - Regulation
Instead, in my view, the solution is government action, which aims at balancing regulation, ethics and markets. This isn't a radical new idea: It's how society treats cars and driving.
Consider, for instance, the Ford Model T, the first mass-produced and mass-consumed automobile. Its debut in 1908 launched the automobile age, a time of great mobility – and widespread death. Car crashes kill more than a million people worldwide each year – but the fatality rate per mile driven has been dropping almost since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line.
Reason - Safety - Record - People - Ethics
The reason for that improving safety record is not that people learning to drive studied the ethics of responsible and safe driving. Rather, they were taught, and tested on, the rules of the road, in order to obtain a driving license. Other regulations improved how roads were built, required car makers to adopt new safety features, mandated accident insurance, and outlawed drunk driving and other unsafe behaviors. I believe a similar approach – regulation, in addition to ethics education for technologists, as well as market competition – is needed today to make modern technology safe for society as a whole.
In the 1980s, internet pioneers adopted a philosophy that "information wants to be free" – so website owners...
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