There is little denying that computers and the rapid development of the internet and other communication technologies are becoming increasingly important in all aspects of life and society. As IT-professionals, we are part of driving this paradigm shift. This course is about asking ourselves questions such as what the consequences of the technology we develop might be, how it affects society and what responsibility we ourself have, as experts in the field.
The traditional computer science curriculum does usually not cover ethical questions, but there are in fact a wealth of such issues facing us as IT-professionals. Unlike physical objects, it is easy to copy and distribute digital information. This has led to controversies over for instance file-sharing and copyright infringement, concerns of the safety of our private digital information, and issues relating to the publication of illegal material (e.g. child pornography or recipes for making explosives).
It has also become possible and increasingly common to gather large amounts of information about individuals. We use the internet, and various "free" services such as social media, internet search engines and so on. We walk around with a smartphone in our pocket, equipped with internet access and GPS. We use credit cards to pay both online and in shops. All these activities leave a digital trace, but do we know what information is being collected and by whom? And to who else the information is sold? What conclusions could be drawn from many sources of data by for instance an machine learning algorithm? We, as users, provide all the content to sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but do we actually get paid a fair price for our contributions to these million dollar enterprises?
Aim and Learning Outcomes
The aim of the course is to give the students a brief introduction to some topics related to ethics and philosophy of computing, and promote thought and reflection on the impacts of ICT on contemporary society. After the course the students should be capable of critically reflecting on ethical and philosophical aspects and consequences of research in ICT, and equipped to conduct further self-studies on related topics.
The above are some examples of questions might be discuss in this course. The course will start with a general introduction to ethics to introduce students to some of the standard methodologies for constructing and analysing moral issues. In addition, there will be group discussions on selected current controversies on ethical issues regarding IT, which there tend to be no shortage of in the media. The students will be given a problem and some questions to discuss and argue for or against. The topics of the course are not set in stone, but will depend on the interests of the participants and issues related to their own research projects.
Each student will pick a particular topic of interest and select a book chapter/paper(s) which they will present to the group in a seminar. In addition to the presentation, the examination will also consist of a short written assignment where the student give their own reflections and opinions on the topics of the course.
Proposed List of Topics
- Introduction to Ethics.
- Privacy and Surveillance.
- Open Source and Free Software.
- "Hacktivisim" and Cyber Warfare.
- Legal and Moral aspects of Filesharing.
- The internet, automation and the transformation of work.
- Sustainability, Green issues, and Social Responsibility.