Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy


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Computer Ethics

The first part is a quick overview of the fundamental issues and core notions in philosophy of AI. In order to establish a shared background for all students, the material of this part will be assessed with an entrance test already in week 3. In the second part of the course, there will be an in-depth discussion of several current topics in the field, for example on ethics and responsibility in AI, transhumanism, or the relation between AI and data science.

On each topic, there will be a lecture, and a seminar with class discussions and student presentations. Students prepare for those discussions by posting a thesis with one or more supporting arguments about the required reading. In case of discrepancies, the calendar should be considered as the official definition.

Typical 4-years honours programs consist of unit credits. A one-term course is worth 3 units, while a full year two-term course is worth 6 units. Please see Admissions for details. Upon completion of second year, students must declare that they are entering the Cognitive Science Subject of Specification.

Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy

Yet, in their operation on machines computer programs are often novel, useful, nonobvious processes and hence are properly patentable. How, or even whether, computer programs should be protected depends largely on one's philosophical analysis of the nature of computer programs and on a justification of protecting intellectual property. The basic philosophical issues of computerized property extend well beyond computer programs to every product in digital form. A movie that costs millions of dollars to make can be copied at no significant cost.

If a movie is copied illegally using the Internet , to what extent should various contributors be held accountable — the person downloading the copy, the person who maintains a directory on the Internet informing people where copies are located, the person who makes a digital version available for others to copy, the company that makes the software specifically designed to copy movies easily over the Internet, or the Internet service provider?

Computers can create and shift relationships of power. Because computers allow individuals to perform tasks more easily and to accomplish some activities that they could never do without them, those who have access to computers have access to power.

As a consequence, an obvious social concern is the disparity in advantage of those who have access to computing, for example in school, over those who do not. Unequal distribution of power may require ethical countermeasures to ensure fairness. To what extent, for example, should disabled citizens be assured of equal access to computing technology? To some degree the Internet has helped to correct this imbalance of power and even shift power toward the individual. For a modest fee individuals can advertise personal items for sale on the Web to a large audience.

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Politicians who are not well connected to an established political group can run an Internet campaign to express their ideas and to solicit funds. Independent hotel operators can unite through an Internet reservation service to compete with the larger hotel chains. But the Internet's ability to shift power to the individual allows one person to solicit children to arrange illicit sexual encounters, to send spam e-mails to millions of people, and to spread viruses and worms. Moreover, Internet power shifts can sometimes result in making the strong even stronger.

Large corporations can outsource jobs to cheaper labor markets and dominant militaries can enhance their capabilities with computerized communication and weapons. These power shifts raise philosophical questions about what the new relationships should be One of the most important power questions is who should govern the Internet itself. The issue of rights and responsibilities of individuals on the Internet is complex because the Internet that supports the Web is worldwide. Different countries have different laws and customs and therefore have different concerns about the Web.

Any given country may have great difficulty enforcing its concerns with information coming and going beyond its borders. Consider differences with regard to free speech as just one example.


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France and Germany have been concerned about prohibiting hate speech. China has targeted political speech. In the United States the focus has been largely on controlling pornography over the Internet. Even within a country's borders free speech often raises perplexing conceptual issues. For instance, should pornography that utilizes virtual children be regulated differently than pornography displaying actual children? But, even assuming agreement on the law, how does a country stop or punish a violator of free speech on the Internet who is located in some remote location in the world?

Should the law be change to accommodate the realities of the Internet? Not surprisingly security is as a fundamental problem on the Internet. Computer users can act from a distance over networks and thereby can accomplish goals without being observed. Hackers can break into computers and remove or alter data without being detected. Ordinary citizens can use tools on the Web to gather information from public documents in order to steal the identities of others.

Terrorists can disrupt entire networks that control vital resources such as the electric power grid. The lack of security on the Internet is reminiscent of Plato's story of the ring of Gyges that allowed a shepherd to act invisibly.

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Plato posed the question, Why should someone be just if he can get away with being unjust? Plato's question is not just an abstract theoretical issue given the availability of current computer technology. If an Internet user can act unjustly and get away with it, why should he or she not do it? Many people who design and operate computing systems regard themselves as computing professionals. But, given that anyone, regardless of educational background, can be hired to do computing, what does it mean to claim that someone is a computing professional? To what standards, including ethical standards, should computing professionals adhere?

Although several codes of ethics have been offered to clarify what duties and responsibilities computer professionals have, professional responsibility has been difficult to establish for at least two reasons. First, unlike medicine and law, the field does not have a tradition of professional qualifying examinations and licensing, and therefore enforcement of any code of ethics is difficult. Second, the nature of computing itself makes the assessment of responsibility difficult. Computer programs are often enormously complex, written by dozens of people, and incomprehensible to any one person.

Moreover, such large computer programs are brittle in that a tiny, obscure error can shatter the performance of the entire system under certain conditions. To what extent should computing professionals be regarded as liable when such difficult to predict errors lead to major failures or even catastrophic results? Although traditionally computer ethics has focused on the ethics of computing situations, a philosophically rich part of the field is computational ethics that considers the impact computing has or theoretically may have on ethics itself.

Philosophical issues in this area include questions such as: In what ways can ethical decision making be properly assisted by computational methods? In principle, could a computer ever make appropriate ethical decisions? Could computer implants in humans enhance and possibly alter human values? And, could a computer, or perhaps a robot, ever have rights or moral responsibilities? Bynum, T. Rogerson, eds. Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, Johnson, D. Nissenbaum, eds. Computers, Ethics, and Social Value.

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Moor, J. Spinello, R. CyberEthics: Morality and Law in Cyberspace. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, Tavani, eds. Readings in Cyberethics.


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Tavani, H. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. September 22, Retrieved September 22, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. Computer ethics refers to the ways in which ethical traditions and norms are tested, applied, stretched, negotiated, and broken in the realm of computer technology.

As computers brought about dramatically enhanced power of communication and data manipulation, new ethical questions and controversies were forced to the forefront of contemporary ethics debates.

While ethics is concerned with codes of behavior, the arena of computer technology has created many uncertainties that make the establishment of such clear codes an often daunting task.

Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy
Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy
Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy
Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy
Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy
Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy
Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy Current Issues in Computing and Philosophy
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