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REVIEW: "Computers and Ethics in the Cyberage", D. Micah Hester/Paul J. Ford

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  • Rob, grandpa of Ryan, Trevor, Devon & Ha
    BKCMETCB.RVW 20020606 Computers and Ethics in the Cyberage , D. Micah Hester/Paul J. Ford, 2001, 0-13-082978-1, U$41.00 %A D. Micah Hester %A Paul J.
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 20, 2002
      BKCMETCB.RVW 20020606

      "Computers and Ethics in the Cyberage", D. Micah Hester/Paul J. Ford,
      2001, 0-13-082978-1, U$41.00
      %A D. Micah Hester
      %A Paul J. Ford
      %C Scarborough, Ontario
      %D 2001
      %G 0-13-082978-1
      %I Prentice Hall
      %O U$41.00 800-576-3800 416-293-3621 fax: 201-236-7131
      %P 498 p.
      %T "Computers and Ethics in the Cyberage"

      This volume is a collection of essays, arranged in a rather complex
      fashion. There are parts, subdivided into chapters, with each chapter
      containing about four papers. It isn't necessarily difficult to find
      the theme running through each set of papers, but neither does the
      conjunction of ideas support the individual discussions.

      The preface, interestingly, states that the book provides no general
      introduction to ethics. There are also lists of alternative orderings
      and selections of the papers included in the volume, suggested to
      address additional topics.

      Part one is an introduction to technology, computers, and values which
      last is rather in contradiction to the assertion that the work
      contains no such introduction. In any case, there is no introduction
      to values. The essays in chapter one look at how the machine affects
      personality (a poetic but unconvincing piece), a review of various
      (both positive and negative but primarily religious) views of
      technology, opinions on technology and moral responsibility, and the
      ethical problems presumed to be unique to computers. Chapter two
      views computer technology as value-laden. The first paper insists
      that computers should be improved by the addition of abilities for
      responding to simple requests in natural language, apparently implying
      that the search for the "user-friendly" chimera has an ethical driver.
      (A common desire, but one that flies in the face of user-interface
      research that indicates people are, in fact, unable to frame requests
      accurately even in natural language.) Others assert that computers
      fail to distinguish between numbers and data (and between information
      and reason), that work with Boolean algebra molds the thinking
      process, and that computers are fun because they are magic.

      Part two purports to review computers and quality of life. Chapter
      three looks at technology and relations with other people. One paper
      points out that the attitude of the Amish towards the telephone is
      supportive of community living, but admits that the example has almost
      no relation to other technology. Others discuss various things you
      can do online, how much Howard Rheingold likes the WELL service, and
      that John Perry Barlow doesn't know whether community actually exists
      (online or in real life). Computer and individuality is addressed, in
      chapter four, with an unsupported assertion that technology has some
      normative value, wild speculation on implantable brain chips, a
      fictional short story about artificial personality, and vague thoughts
      about the anthropomorphizing effect of the changing language with
      regard to computers. A look at computers in developing nations
      assumes that the purpose of computer use is control, asserts (but does
      not support) the idea that western (and therefore somehow
      "authoritative") computers are unsuited to Africa (the entire
      continent is assumed to have unreliable data), that information
      technology can help in Latin America but there are problems, presents
      random memories of email use in Jamaica, and asserts, in chapter five,
      that transferring technology to the third world can create problems.

      Part three concentrates on the uses, abuses (and maybe consequences)
      of technology. Chapter six looks at professionals and ethics, with
      various views of whether professions have special obligations (and a
      final decision that computing is not a profession), scenarios
      emphasizing conflicting loyalties, and some factors that might help
      reduce computer misuse. Freedom, privacy and control is the topic of
      chapter seven, discussing problems with direct democracy, reprinting a
      political speech nominally about privacy, and attempting to determine
      a definition and some characteristics of privacy. A review of
      intellectual property ownership and piracy has an interesting
      examination of the differences in attitudes to copyright between
      western (stressing ownership and roles) and Asian (emphasizing social
      benefits and outcomes) cultures, as well as a student survey, a
      statement that the arguments in favour of copyright are at best
      unproven, and an opinion promoting copy protection cracking and the
      distribution of "cracked" commercial programs (with the usual lack of
      logic and writing skills). (Despite this last essay, chapter eight is
      possibly the best in the book.) Chapter nine has some
      sensationalistic material on hacking (and a very poor introduction to
      viruses) with no real conclusions, a hacker "manifesto," a strong (but
      no perfect) analysis deciding that computer intrusions cannot be held
      to be "victimless," an interview with a self-styled "hacker" (as self-
      serving as most such), and a weak examination of the Morris Worm.

      Part four seems to assume that it is moving into more advanced or
      futuristic technologies, although the discussions don't change much.
      Chapter ten has another fictional short story implying that computers
      are false gods, a replay of "What Computers Can't Do," and a vague
      wondering about the definition of life. One essay, very much in
      contradiction to the thesis of Rosalind Picard's excellent "Affective
      Computing" (cf. BKAFFCMP.RVW) maintains that a computer which is
      "superior in every way" (to us) must be a "monster," and assumes that
      artificial intelligence will be devoid of compassion. (Even if one
      does accept that intelligence must be emotionless, there is no mention
      of the fact that such a system would also lack cruelty.) The overview
      of virtual reality (VR) has an interesting examination of the health
      and safety effects (limited) and benefits of the technology, and two
      assertions of the need for a VR ethic, in chapter eleven. In chapter
      twelve, Al Gore sells the GII (Global Information Infrastructure), we
      are told that there is pornography on the Internet, Dibbell's classic
      "Rape in Cyberspace" is reprinted, and an article on cyberstalking
      seems to void its premise by repeatedly demonstrating that most of the
      activities take place in the real world, not the net.

      Many of the papers in this collection are lifted wholesale from their
      origin. Although ellipses seem to indicate that material has been cut
      in a number of places, there are still some very odd references to
      other papers or presentations no longer "present," and even comments
      directed at people who are no longer in the audience.

      Much of this material is quite seriously flawed by a lack, on the part
      of the authors, of a technical background. This is not to say that
      non-technical people cannot comment on the social aspects of
      technology, nor that discussions of technical ethics could not benefit
      from the input of philosophers, ethicists, sociologists, and the like.
      However, many of the speculations bear little relationship to
      technical reality, and therefore the arguments and decisions are

      Overall, there is a lack of direction to the work. In the end, it
      gives an impression of a vague complaint that computers aren't moral,
      and aren't taking the burden of ethical decisions away from mankind.
      Personally, I find this position not only unhelpful, but extremely

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2002 BKCMETCB.RVW 20020606

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single
      experiment can prove me wrong. - Albert Einstein
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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