Nine Editions of ETHICOMP: A Content Analysis

Angel Luis Garcia and Porfirio Barroso


This year we will be celebrating the tenth edition of ETHICOMP (Ethics and Computer). Ten editions in which this congress has become one of the most important and relevant congresses in the world about Computer Ethics and it has also become a central reference within the field of Computer Ethics. Some time has passed since the first edition that took place at the University of Leicester in 1995 and many papers have been sent along with over 600 documents. Due to this wealth of material, it is necessary to do a qualitative and a quantitative analysis of the documents sent in the last nine congresses to come up with conclusions about the historic evolution of ETHICOMP and, by extension, of the past, present, and, why not, of the future of Computer Ethics.

Deepening on this idea, it would not be wrong to point out that the main objective of this article is to discover the key to the growth and development of the first nine editions of ETHICOMP. That is, we need to do an analysis of all documents sent to the various editions of the congress that due to the important list and participants, bringing together the best people of Computer Ethics, represent all possible views of the different areas Computer Ethics.

To accomplish this task, the chosen material could be no other than the more than 600 articles that have been submitted in the first nine editions of ETHICOMP emphasizing the evolution of Computer Ethics through the analysis obtained from the conferences sent over the years allowing us to see how interests, views, and the treatment of the articles have changed and evolved.

We began by getting the official Books of Proceedings of the nine congresses, work that would allow us to extract the entire database from which we can perform our qualitative and quantitative analysis. We continued to the reading, analysis, and categorization of all articles submitted. This process was conducted in a systematic way to extract patterns and common modes of analysis to frame all presented articles in a series of common levels comparable among them. To accomplish such a task, we developed a thematic categorization of the articles according to a series of forty ethical principles that served as a basis on which to frame and observe the range of thematic categories that appeared more frequently over the several congresses. Building on this work, in addition to the thematic categorization of the articles, we also highlighted other qualitative aspects such as the possible relationship of the articles to both their historical circumstances and the proposals by ETHICOMP. We also studied other purely quantitative aspects such as the evolution of the number of sent articles and the number of authors present in the conferences.

Once we categorized the articles and having in our hands the important database, we needed to put together the data to carry out our analysis that could reach the conclusions that would help us understand the evolution of the first nine editions of ETHICOMP. To do this, we decided to first analyze each of the congresses separately in an effort to extract dominant trends and relationships with thematic or historical circumstances in each conference, thus facilitating subsequent comparison of different editions. After completing each of the nine separate analysis, we moved to the second stage: a complete analysis of the entire group of articles sent to all editions with the goal of drawing more global conclusions observing the variation of some variants such as the predominant theme in ETHICOMP, the proposed theme by ETHICOMP, the trend in the number articles sent, or the profiles of the authors.

After completing this analysis, we obtained a series of results that can be used to reflect the evolution of ETHICOMP in this period of time. Thus, it was possible to identify three different timeframes with respect to the most discussed subject. First, up to 1999 the prevailing concept was the “Necessity of the existence of some ethical aspects and deontological guidelines.” Subsequently, more attention was given to the “Academic preparation and continued education.” Finally, from 2002 to the present, the most prevailing theme has been the “Development, promotion, and access to Computer Science.” In these trends the proposed themes by ETHICOMP have not been very influential, since the sent articles did not keep up with the proposed themes by the ETHICOMP organization.

Extrapolating these most discussed topics to all the nine editions we see that the most prevalent issues in the three phases of ETHICOMP are also the predominant ones among the total of the more than 600 presented documents. Thus, the most historically present topic in ETHICOMP would be the “Development, promotion, and access to Computer Science” with 18.34% of the articles, the second would be was “Necessity of the existence of some ethical aspects and deontological guidelines” with 14.83 % of the articles, and the third would the “Academic preparation and continued education” with 13.24%. Finally, in the analysis of quantitative character, we looked at the profiles of the authors who submit their articles to ETHICOMP, focusing on the authors who attended ETHICOMP the most, and also focusing on the authors who submitted the highest number of articles. Moreover, to complete our analysis, we conducted the evolution of the number of sent papers to each edition of the congresses, noting that after the first stage of expansion and strong growth until 1999, the congress has stabilized around the 80 articles per edition.

These are some initial results and conclusions that, with a more detailed vision, will help us analyze and show, through the study of ETHICOMP, the major trends, centers of attention, and, more generally, the evolution of Computer Ethics in the past decade.