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 users
to type in a code before using the software. They do this in many