Norbert Wiener’s Foundation of Computer Ethics

By Terrell Ward Bynum

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, visionary mathematician/philosopher Norbert Wiener founded computer ethics as a field of academic research. In his groundbreaking book, The Human Use of Human Beings (1950, 1954), Wiener developed a powerful method for identifying and analyzing the enormous impacts of information and communication technology (ICT) upon human values like life, health, happiness, security, knowledge and creativity. Even today, in this era of “global information ethics” and the Internet, concepts and procedures that Wiener developed in the 1950s can be used to identify, analyze and resolve social and ethical problems associated with ICT of all kinds. Wiener based his foundation for computer ethics upon a “cybernetic” view of human nature that leads readily to an ethically suggestive account of the purpose of a human life. From this, he derived “principles of justice” upon which every society should be based, and then he followed a practical strategy for identifying and resolving computer ethics issues wherever they might arise. Continue reading

A Very Short History of Computer Ethics

By Terrell Ward Bynum

[This article was published in the Summer 2000 issue of the American Philosophical Association’s Newsletter on Philosophy and Computing]

The Foundation of Computer Ethics

Computer ethics as a field of study was founded by MIT professor Norbert Wiener during World War Two (early 1940s) while helping to develop an antiaircraft cannon capable of shooting down fast warplanes. One part of the cannon had to “perceive” and track an airplane, then calculate its likely trajectory and “talk” to another part of the cannon to fire the shells. The engineering challenge of this project caused Wiener and some colleagues to create a new branch of science, which Wiener called “cybernetics” – the science of information feedback systems. The concepts of cybernetics, when combined with the digital computers being created at that time, led Wiener to draw some remarkably insightful ethical conclusions. He perceptively foresaw revolutionary social and ethical consequences. In 1948, for example, in his book Cybernetics: or control and communication in the animal and the machine, he said the following: Continue reading

Leapfrogging The Grid On a Micro Scale

feature3Information Ethics in the Underdeveloped World:

A Project of the Research Center on Computing & Society

The Research Center on Computing & Society at Southern Connecticut State University has launched a project to identify and study information ethics issues in the underdeveloped world. Our goal is to identify problems and opportunities related to ICT (information and communication technologies) and then suggest to underdeveloped lands ways to solve or prevent such problems by taking advantage of promising new technology.

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