A Discipline in its Infancy

As Computer Use Grows, So Do Moral Issues
By Terrell Ward Bynum

This article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, on Tuesday, January 12, 1982.

A famous rock star has just died and millions of fans are grieving. The computer of a major novelty distributor is immediately put into action, for there is not a moment to lose if the grief is to be fully exploited. From data banks of ticket agencies, record distributors and other firms, the computer compiles names, addresses, purchasing histories and financial backgrounds of people who bought records and attended concerts of the fallen star. Within 48 hours of the tragedy, the novelty company begins computer-dialing phone numbers of thousands of grieving fans. Whenever someone answers, the computer plays excerpts of the dead star’s most emotional records along with a sales pitch for souvenir T-shirts and posters. Instantly, orders are taken and confirmation letters are printed. Within a week, more than a million fans have been reached, and factories have been notified of the number of items to produce. Is this imagined application of computers a smart, efficient business venture? Is it unfair exploitation of people caught in a weak moment? Is the gathering of information on people and the phoning of their homes an unethical invasion of their privacy or a new and commendable business strategy? Such questions and many harder ones are being raised and debated in “computer ethics,” a new field of growing concern to business and industry as well as to all of society.
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Computer Ethics Issues In Academic Computing

– Further issues concerning teaching computer ethics are explored.

Computer Ethics Issues in Academic Computing table of contents

The National Conference on Computing and Values (NCCV) was held on the campus of Southern Connecticut State University in August 1991. The Conference included six “tracks:” Teaching Computing and Human Values, Computer Privacy and Confidentiality, Computer Security and Crime, Ownership of Software and Intellectual Property, Equity and Access to Computing Resources, and Policy Issues in the Campus Computing Environment. Each track included a major address, three to five commentaries, some small “working groups,” and a packet of relevant readings (the “Track Pack”). A variety of supplemental “enrichment events” were also included.

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Who We Are

The Research Center on Computing & Society is dedicated to the advancement of computer ethics as an academic discipline and to the ethical use of computer technology. Major activities of the Research Center include the following:

  • TEACHING – create and teach computer ethics courses at the university level; conduct computer ethics teaching workshops for faculty members of colleges and universities.
  • NETWORKING – promote cooperation among scholars and public policy makers on computer ethics topics; serve as a central source of information about relevant people, resources, and organizations.
  • RESEARCH – promote research through conference sponsorship, fellowships, grants, internships, commissioned publications, library creation, etc.
  • PUBLICATIONS – create and disseminate books, articles, monographs, proceedings, video programs, model curriculum materials, and other results of research in computer ethics.
  • WEB SITE – create and maintain one of the finest computer ethics Web sites in cyberspace with teaching materials, articles and papers, multimedia materials, and links to other computer ethics resources.

The Research Center on Computing & Society at Southern Connecticut State University • 501 Crescent Street • New Haven, CT 06515 • Director: (203) 392-6790 • e-mail:obengw1@owls.southernct.edu

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