An Ethical Crisis in Computing
Moshe Y. Vardi,
Rice University –
Computer scientists think often of “Ender’s Game” these days. In
this award-winning 1985 science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card,
Ender is being trained at Battle School, an institution designed
to make young children into military commanders against an
unspecified enemy. Ender’s team engages in a series of
computer-simulated battles, eventually destroying the enemy’s
planet, only to learn then that the battles were very real and a
real planet has been destroyed.
Many of us got involved in computing because programming was fun.
The benefits of computing seemed intuitive to us. We truly believe
that computing yields tremendous societal benefits; for example,
the life-saving potential of driverless cars is enormous! Like
Ender, however, we realized recently that computing is not a
game–it is real–and it brings with it not only societal benefits,
but also significant societal costs, such as labor polarization,
disinformation, and smart-phone addiction.
The common reaction to this crisis is to label it as an “ethical
crisis” and the proposed response is to add courses in ethics to
the academic computing curriculum. I will argue that the ethical
lense is too narrow. The real issue is how to deal with
technology’s impact on society.
Technology is driving the future, but who is doing the steering?
Moshe Y. Vardi is University Professor and the George
Distinguished Service Professor in Computational Engineering at
Rice University. He is the recipient of several awards, including
the ACM SIGACT Goedel Prize, the ACM Kanellakis Award, the ACM
SIGMOD Codd Award, the Blaise Pascal Medal, the IEEE Computer
Society Goode Award, and the EATCS Distinguished Achievements Award.
He is the author and co-author of over 650 papers, as well as two
books. He is a fellow of several societies, and a member of
several academies, including the US National Academy of
Engineering and National Academy of Science. He holds seven
honorary doctorates. He is a Senior Editor of the Communications
of the ACM, the premier publication in computing.
Joaquim Armando Pires Jorge