How to think and talk about cases involving ethics in computing

I received the following suggestions from a philosopher and colleague about this course:

Our conversation yesterday evening left me thinking and I thought I’d carry the discussion a little farther.  You might consider what the principal objective of your course is.  One possibility that occurs to me, to impart some knowledge of ethical ideas and theories and get some practice in recognizing and confronting moral problems connected with computing.  Another one, and this is what I find most appealing, is to raise the students’ moral awareness of the ethical issues that appear in the computing fields.  And it might help to distinguish two sorts of issues. There are those, like honesty, truth-telling, trustworthiness, and mutuality, that arise in situations involving computing and computers but that are not distinctive to those situations but are found in the course of other human activities.  It’s important to be able to recognize these and compare them with similar situations outside of computing.  Then there are issues that may be unique to computing, that are evoked by the situations one is likely to find oneself in or by the nature of the technology.  These may require a different kind of awareness, since they are unlike our more usual experience.  Since I am not expertly familiar with the field, I can’t think offhand of examples of this, but I’m sure there are many.  You can probably think of some, and it might be a good exercise in class or as an assignment to try to get the students to think of some.  (This would be best to do after discussing the first, more usual issues.) How do these ideas strike you?

Any comments from students in the course or other people?

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