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Do programmers need professional ethics?

by | Apr 16, 2019 | Uncategorised

Do programmers need professional ethics?

Computing professionals are an integral part of almost every aspect of the modern world. They’re involved in the response when hackers steal personal information. They can protect or expose critical infrastructures, and the algorithms they write can have a human effect on who may be approved for a loan, mortgage or even get a job.

To some extent we’re at their mercy. Businesses need IT professionals to defend them against the misuse of technology and to get the best out of it. They need them to understand the technology, protect data and to keep systems up and running, safely and reliably. Clearly, as the role of IT continues to expand so will our need for the professionals.

Given the power that IT professionals wield then, should they have a code of ethics?

Well, the largest organisation of computer scientists and engineers – the Association for Computing Machinery – thinks that they should and has issued a new Code of Conduct for computing professionals which contains core values and standards which IT professionals should uphold. And for businesses, it means that they can feel confident that their IT professionals have their best interests at heart.

Technology – computers, software and digital data – are everywhere, both visible (think of smartphones, social media and video conferencing) and hidden (think of timers on coffee machines, thermostats in the house and voice-activated curtains). AR and VR are well and truly on their way – and how long until autonomous vehicles become mainstream?

So, as computers become ever more seamlessly integrated into modern life, should the IT profession, now that ‘computing work’ is so much more than purely technical and can have unpredictable or unintended effects on people’s lives, have a commitment – or at least guidance – towards ethical conduct?

Well, the Code has been updated. Instead of software developers simply being sure that a programme does what they said it would, they now should specifically evaluate their work for potential misuse or harmful side-effects. It also includes more detailed considerations about exclusion, discrimination and harassment, and ethical treatment of customers applying for loans.

A collection of case studies is available to show how the guidelines and ethical thinking can be applied to real-world situations; there is the opportunity for the public to submit ethical quandaries for discussion as they actually arise, and teaching modules of the concepts are to become part of computing education.

The ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct begins with the statement, “Computing professionals’ actions change the world.”

Clearly, the global computing community understands the impact of its work– and takes seriously its responsibility for the public good.



Rapid IT Reponse is a specialist IT Company based in Stockport near Manchester

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