Morality and Ethics and Computers
There are many different sides to the discussion on moral and ethical uses of
computers. In many situations, the morality of a particular use of a computer is up to the
individual to decide. For this reason, absolute laws about ethical computer usage is
almost, but not entirely, impossible to define.
The introduction of computers into the workplace has introduced many questions
as well: Should employers make sure the workplace is designed to minimize health risks
such as back strain and carpal tunnel syndrome for people who work with computers?
Can employers prohibit employees from sending personal memos by electronic mail to a
friend at the other side of the office? Should employers monitor employees' work on
computers? If so, should employees be warned beforehand? If warned, does that make
the practice okay? According to Kenneth Goodman, director of the Forum for Bioethics
and Philosophy at the University of Miami, who teaches courses in computer ethics,
"There's hardly a business that's not using computers."1 This makes these questions all
the more important for today's society to answer.
There are also many moral and ethical problems dealing with the use of computers
in the medical field. In one particular case, a technician trusted what he thought a
computer was telling him, and administered a deadly dose of radiation to a hospital
patient.2 In cases like these, it is difficult to decide who's fault it is. It could have been the
computer programmer's fault, but Goodman asks, "How much responsibility can you place
on a machine?"3
Many problems also occur when computers are used in education. Should
computers replace actual teachers in the classroom? In some schools, computers and
computer manuals have already started to replace teachers. I would consider this an
unethical use of computers because computers do not have the ability to think and interact
on an interpersonal basis.
Computers "dehumanize human activity"4 by taking away many jobs and making
many others "boring exercises in pushing the buttons that make the technology work." 5
Complete privacy is almost impossible in this computer age. By using a credit card
or check cashing card, entering a raffle, or subscribing to a magazine, people provide
information about themselves that can be sold to marketers and distributed to data bases
throughout the world. When people use the world-wide web, the sites they visit and
download things from, make a record that can be traced back to the person.6 This is not
protected, as it is when books are checked out of a library. Therefore, information about
someone's personal preferences and interests can be sold to anyone. A health insurance
company could find out if a particular person had bought alcohol or cigarettes and charge
that person a higher rate because he or she is a greater health risk. Although something
like this has not been reported yet, there are no laws against it, at this point.
More and more data base companies are monitoring individuals with little
regulation. "Other forms of monitoring-such as genetic screening-could eventually be
used to discriminate against individuals not because of their past but because of statistical
expectations about their future."7 For instance, people who do not have AIDS but carry
the antibodies are being discharged from the U.S. military and also fired from some jobs.
Who knows if this kind of medical information could lead employers to make decisions of
employment based on possible future illnesses rather than on job qualifications. Is this an
ethical use of computers?
One aspect of computers that is surely immoral and unethical is computer crime,
which has been on the rise lately. There are many different types of computer crime.
Three main types of crimes are making computer viruses, making illegal copies of
software, and actually stealing computers.
Computer viruses have been around for a decade but they became infamous when
the Michelangelo virus caused a scare on March 6, 1992. According to the National
Computer Security Association in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, there are 6000 known viruses
worldwide and about 200 new ones show up every month.8 These viruses are spread
quickly and easily and can destroy all information on a computer's hard drive. Now,
people must buy additional software just to detect viruses and possibly repair infected
files.
Making illegal copies of software is also a growing problem in the computer
world. Most people find no problem in buying a computer program and giving a copy to
their friend or co-worker. Some people even make copies and sell them to others.
Software companies are starting to require computer