Computer Ethics PHI3626 Chapter 8

Computer Ethics 3rd Edition by Deborah G. Johnson

These are the questions from the book with my answers, which are what I understood from studying the information in this book.

Chapter 8 Questions

  1. How does a Kantian conception of the value of human beings lead to a focus on autonomy and access?

    My Answer: The idea that human beings should be respected as ends in themselves necessitates a form of government that gives individuals freedom to pursue their own plans for their lives and that gives them a say in the governance of public institutions that directly and indirectly shape their lives. In other words, the Kantian conceptions of human beings as ends in themselves provided the moral justification for democracy, democratic values, and democratic institutions.

    A just society is one in which freedoms and constraints and benefits and burdens are fairly distributed. If the rules systematically skew things to the advantage of certain groups and to the disadvantage of others, the justice does not prevail. Computer and information technology and especially the Internet have been implicated in the widening gap between haves and have-nots within countries and among countries of the world. This issue is often referred to as "the digital divide."

  2. Identify and explain at least three broad issues about technology and social change that often underlie discussions of the social implications of computer and information technology.

    My Answer: (1) What counts as a "Social Revolution"?

    -- For many, social revolution means a change in political structure or a change in the distribution of power.

    -- For others, social revolution means a change in how individuals think about themselves.

    -- Yet for others, it has to do with the economic base of a society.

    -- Many have argued, for example, that a social revolution has taken place in the Unites States because of a shift from manufacturing to information services as the largest portion of the U.S. economy.

    -- An error to avoid is confusing technological change with social change. A change in technology does not necessarily mean a social change.

    -- An other error is to suppose that all technological change leads to social change.

    (2) Is there change or entrenchment of the status quo?

    --- This issue is related to the question of revolutionary versus ordinary change in pushing us to identify and make explicit what is and isnít changing.

    --- You should be alert to the possibility that technological change sometimes reinforces and entrenches social patterns and hierarchies, especially relationships of power and authority that already exists.

    --- This is precisely what is at issue with the digital divide, a concern that access to computer and information technology and the Internet will further entrench patterns of wealth and power that already prevail.

    (3) Is Technology good or bad?

    ---- Whether technology is good or bad depends on which technology you are referring to and which of usually multiple effects. Many technologies are a mix of benefits and costs.

    ---- Moreover, technologies tend to affect individuals differently. They affect different socioeconomic classes differently. Technologies differentially affect men and women, racial groups, age groups, occupational groups, regions within a country, and across the world, to name just a few.

    ---- Hence, it is a mistake to assume technology is all good or all bad.

  3. Give examples of how computer and information technology seems to be causing a revolution. Give examples of how computer and information technology seems to reinforce the status quo.

    My Answer: Popular examples of significant change include the shift from horse and buggy to automobiles and the changes that occurred with the invention of the telephone and the television.

    Two cases that computer might prevent social change and entrench social arrangements are the stock exchange and the military bureaucracy in Washington, DC. According to Winzenbaum, both institutions had a centralized organizational structure and both had grown so large in the first half of the twentieth century that the centralize structure was difficult to maintain. If computer technology had not come along when it did, both of these institutions would have been forced to make some very fundamental changes.

  4. Give examples of values embedded in technology. Give examples of values embedded in particular applications of computer software.

    My Answer: Human made objects are made by humans who have intentions and purposes. Humans make computers and software and the Internet to do things that they want to do. It is true that often we find that technologies created for one purpose, can do more or can do something different, but even so. when we find these other capabilities, it is human purposes Ė human values - that lead us to recognize that additional capabilities of the technology. Humans create material objects for human purposes, be it objects for symbolic and spiritual purposes or for assisting transportation and communication or making fire and catching animals. In this respect, human-made objects are far from value-neutral.

    Software engineers intentionally design systems to do certain jobs. The tasks that the software accomplishes are valued, and the way the software does the job will also contain values. The system designer may, for example, seek an efficient or elegant or user-friendly design. Efficiency, elegance, and user-friendliness are values.

  5. Describe the three arguments that support the claim that the Internet is a democratic technology.

    My Answer:
    Unmediated, Many to Many Interaction.

    i. it allows many-to-many communication;

    ii. the communications can be unmediated by institutionalized forms of communication;

    iii. even when the Internet is used to gain assess to institutionalized information, it facilitates access to a diversity of sources; and

    iv. it allows the formation of new associations independent of geographic location, especially associations around the issues that would, otherwise, have been minority issues.

    Information is Power.

    i. Democracy means power in the hands of individuals (the many);

    ii. information is power;

    iii. the Internet makes vast quantities of information available to individuals;

    iv. therefore, the Internet is democratic (Johnson, 1997)

    More Power to the Less Powerful.

    i. The internet empowers the dis-empowered and dis-empowers the powerful.

    ii. Special interest groups who were not able to find each other before or form effective associations, can now find each other online and by combinations fain power.

    iii. Their lack of power before had to do with their geographic fragmentation or their lack of identity when interspersed in majority groups.

    iv. the Internet eliminates the barriers to association that existed before and in this way gives power to the otherwise less powerful.

  6. Explain why the author is reluctant to accept these arguments.

    My Answer: The arguments are problematic because of what they fail to acknowledge (not in what they affirm). While the Internet facilitates the patens of behavior described in the arguments, it also facilitates other patterns of behavior. Some of these other patterns of behavior are neutral to democracy and yet others are undemocratic. Remember the malleability of this technology. It is closer to the truth to say that the Internet can, though not necessarily does, facilitate democracy (democratic values, relationships, or institutions). As well, it can, though not necessarily does, facilitate just the opposite. By just the opposite, I mean there that the Internet can facilitate hierarchical relationships. can increase the power of the already powerful, and can control and enslave rather than liberate individuals.

  7. Why is access to the Internet important for democracy?

    My Answer: Democratic societies are committed to the idea that every citizen is equal with respect to the state and the law; that is, democratic societies are committed to political equality. However, political equality cannot be entirely separated from social and economic equality. That is, social and economic inequality can lead to political inequality. Hence, democratic societies have to be concerned about social and economic inequality.

    Unequal access to a powerful resource such as computers and information technology can skew social and economic opportunities. Unequal access to a powerful resource can give some individuals much more power than others, so much so that democracy is threatened. Because computer and information technology and the internet are such powerful resources. Democratic societies have to ask how these powerful resources are being distributed. How are the affecting individual opportunities?

    It is used in so many different contexts, to achieve so many different ends (education, job and job skills, the capacity to send/receive information and form associations). The comprehensiveness of its use provides an argument for its broad distribution.

    Unlike any other technology that was developed in the 20th century, computer and information technology is transforming so many domains of life that its distribution will affect the distribution of opportunity and power in the future. Hence, unlike any other technology, broad or even universal access to computer and information technology and the Internet is essential for democracy.

  8. Why do computers affect the relationship between haves and have-nots? Explain

    My Answer: The widening gap between have & have-nots arise from inequalities in access to computers & information technology in general, not just in the Internet. While inequalities in education, job opportunities, the capacity to send and receive information, and the capacity to form associations existed prior to the development of computer and information technology, differential access may broaden those inequities. On the other hand, computer and information technology and the Internet could be part of the solution. They could even be used to counteract prior inequalities

  9. What does the author see as important broad issues to monitor in the evolving development of the Internet?

    My Answer: Three areas to watch are:

    (1) jurisdiction,

    (2) system of trust,

    (3) and insularity.

  10. Explain how computer systems may be value-laden versus their being biased?

    My Answer: Technology is value-laden according to the author because it is created and shaped by human interest and social values, and when it is used, it affects social relations and social values.


These questions and the chapter conclusion come from the book "Computer Ethics" 3rd edition by Deborah G. Johnson. The conclusion and questions come from this book, but the answers are what m3cats found in the text of that book. The purpose of this duplication is for a study guide for PHI3626a at UCF during the spring of 2003.

Computer Ethics PHI3626

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