A short history of ETHICOMPs

Angel Luis Garcia Alvarez, Porfirio Barroso Asenjo, Rishwina Dookhony


ETHICOMP (Ethics and Computer) has become a reality nowadays. The registered trademark belonging to the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR) at the Leicester University (United Kingdom) has gradually reached maturity and, after eight editions, has reached a recognised position among the most important congresses in the world about Computer Ethics. This evolution had not gone unnoticed and, eleven years after holding the first edition in Leicester in 1995, we thought it was necessary to make a content analysis and a comparative analysis about the development of the congress during its first decade of existence, both of which had not been possible until today. In this paper we will get some ideas and we’ll arrive to some conclusions on the historical evolution and features of ETHICOMP.

The first purpose or goal of this research that we present in this paper is to observe how ETHICOMP has grown and developed throughout the first eight editions and which guidelines it has followed. Our work consists not only of an analysis of one congress but a general perspective of all the congresses up to the present time. Due to the importance and response that ETHICOMP has amongst scholars of Computer Ethics, the analysis of ETHICOMP will eventually become an analysis of the predominant trends in Computer Ethics among the most prestigious authors, professors, and researchers of Computer Ethics all over the world.

To carry out the mentioned analysis of ETHICOMP, the most obvious and logic way was to approach the congresses through the previous articles and papers presented to ETHICOMP itself. Thus, the title of this abstract “A short history of ETHICOMPs”, is due to the analysis of all conferences published in the Book of Proceedings, more than 800 documents have been studied in multiple ways in order to finally arrive to this work that enlightens past, present, and future trends of ETHICOMP.

After we achieved the first step of our research of getting all the Book of Proceedings of all the conferences held by ETHICOMP, we continued to the most arduous work of our research: reading, comprehension, and categorisation of all the presented articles, and so on. The next step was to develop a process with which to classify criteria at the moment of categorising the distinct papers to place them in similar levels. We created a classification of the articles according to its topics or themes presented in the lectures of the Book of Proceedings so we could discover the ETHICOMP trends, and in addition at the same time, to know whom the scholars of Computer Ethics were that presented the articles in the conferences. Once we classified the paper, we paid attention to other aspects of the articles such as who the authors were, the year of presentation of the papers, or their possible relationship in the historical context.

Once completed the classification of the topics, it was time to collect and present the results in a paper in which we carried out an analysis in two stages. First, we studied each ETHICOMP yearly conference individually in order to find out the trends that dominated each one of them, the most frequent themes or topics, their relationship between the general title requested by ETHICOMP, which varies every eighteen months when every conference is held, and the presented papers by the scholars in Computer Ethics. Once analysed individually, each of the articles of all of the eight editions of the ETHICOMP conferences, we achieved a global analysis, observing the total number of articles presented with the goal of reaching some general conclusions of the evolution and trends of these first ten years of ETHICOMP. To arrive to these conclusions we analysed these five factors:

  1. Evolution of the most repeated or more frequent themes presented in ETHICOMP
  2. The proposed ETHICOMP theme and its corresponding presented papers
  3. The number of articles presented in each ETHICOMP
  4. The total number of papers presented in each of the forty ETHICOMP categories studied
  5. Features and profiles of the authors who presented papers in EHICOMP

Once this double analysis was completed, we arrived at some results and conclusion that we will present briefly in advance. First, we found three stages of different hegemony in ETHICOMP. The first stage, from 1995 to 1999, is under the domain of the “Necessity of the existence of some ethical aspects and deontological guidelines.” The second stage is marked by the “Academic preparation and continued education.” And a third stage started in 2002 and continues to the present time, dominated by the “Development, promotion, and access to Computer Science.” We have also seen articles sent to ETHICOMP unrelated to the proposed theme or topic for each ETHICOMP conference but, on the contrary, they corresponded to the broad proposition of the year-and-a-half conference more than the requested theme or topic by ETHICOMP. The number of presented papers of each edition of ETHICOMP is marked, in this first stage from 1995 to 1999, by an increased number of papers each year and culminated when ETHICOMP stabilises around 130 papers. We have seen that the most important topics regarding the total number of proposed papers corresponded with the three themes that have appeared along the eight ETHICOMPs. The first topic was “Development, promotion, and access to Computer Science” with a percentage of 11.56% of the total number of papers. The second was “Academic preparation and continued education” with 9.11%. And the third topic was “Necessity of the existence of some ethical aspects and deontological guidelines” with a percentage of 8.99%. Finally, we have also observed and analysed the profiles of the authors who have attended all the previously held conferences, resulting in only 2 authors, and those who have presented the highest number of papers in all eight ETHICOMPs.

A series of results and conclusions which point to a single direction: to analyse the evolution followed by ETHICOMP in its first eight editions, always correlated with the historical and social context in which it has developed, and, along with it, the entire field of Computer Ethics, which is so accurately represented by such prestigious congress.