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Ethics and Professional Practice

Each of the bodies that define computing curricula such as the IEEE Computer Society, the ACM, and the British Computer Society require that students be taught the essentials of professional practices and ethical behavior in computing.

Some universities and colleges provide a formal course in computer ethics and some integrate ethics into all the courses they teach.

This part of the website introduces computer ethics and explains why it is of importance to computer scientists and engineers.

A student taking a course in computer architecture might be tempted to say "What's ethics got to do with me? I am learning about processors, memory and buses; I don't have to make life and death decisions like doctors and surgeons".

Ethics is an important component of all branches of computer science, including architecture. If you design computer systems or even individual components, those components are used in real-world systems. You are often legally responsible for the safe operation of these systems.

Moreover, you have to be aware of the legal aspects of the design processor; for example the law governing patents. Most professionals in computing will be aware that companies sometimes sue each other. A computer engineer may be responsible for dragging his or her company into the courts. Equally, the engineer may have to defend their company.

Professional codes

Most professional bodies have a code of ethical conduct. Here are some examples.

Codes of conduct have been around for a long time. King John was forced to agree to this one in 1215. It’s called the Magna Carta.

An interesting ethical issue affecting both academics and students is that of intellectual property.  I gave a lecture on this to my students several years ago. You can find the notes here.

Categories of Ethics

Ethics is a collective term that applies to the various standards we use to judge or to govern the behavior of individuals or groups of individuals.

You may say that "ethics" is the set of laws that govern our behavior.

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the norms of behavior.

We use ethics to help us decide what actions are good and what are bad. An understanding of ethics is vital in any activity that involves people other than yourself; for example, designing, producing and selling computers.

For a more detailed discussion of ethics read this.

Teaching Ethics

It’s not always easy to include ethical considerations when teaching topics like computer architecture that seem so far removed from everyday life and considerations. Click here to read an paper I wrote on this topic for Frontiers in Education.

Embedding Ethics Ethics Science Fiction

Honors Code

Many universities in the USA have a so called Honors Code that requires students to behave in an ethical manor; particularly with respect to academic honesty. Follow this link for a discussion on this topic.