The Continual Evolution of Interest in Computing Ethics
issues in data science [ 7]. The revised Code
adopts several new Principles that address
issues in specific computing technologies
such as AI, machine learning, and autonomous machines making ethically significant decisions. The Principles of the Code
remain general but will be presented with
explanations and examples that draw on
specific computing technologies, showing
how they relate to concrete decisions of
computing practitioners. The ACM Code
of Ethics and Professional Conduct is a
guide to proactive action that helps us, as
a profession, to promote good and reduce
unanticipated negative impacts.
The Co-evolution must continue
When taken together—a scholarly literature
that reaches back at least sixty years, a call
for incorporating computing ethics into the
undergraduate computing curriculum for
over forty years, and the ACM’s support for
over fifty years of codes of ethics based
on professionalism founded on universal
ethical principles—there is clear evidence of
not only an interest in, but a serious commitment to computing ethics. This well-established paper trail can benefit those
working in new computing developments in
specific computing technologies such as AI.
Furthermore, scholars working with specific
technologies can make contributions to
a broader understanding of computing
ethics. Indeed, the demand for discussion
of ethics in AI has brought more general
ethics of computing to the forefront, and we
welcome the inclusion of ethicists, philoso-
phers, sociologists, and other interdisciplin-
ary fields that help to explore ethical and
social issues in the discussions we see at AI
conferences and industry conventions.
The recent interest in ethics of specific
technologies such as AI is a positive, en-
couraging development. It is an extension
of a significant existing body of work on
computing ethics. However, discussions
about specific technology ethics like AI
ethics should leverage relevant existing
work by utilizing the established research
literature in computing ethics, extant com-
puting ethics curricula, and broad-based
codes of ethics such as the ACM Code of
Ethics and Professional Conduct. Ground-
ing ethical issues in AI in the existing liter-
ature and codes of ethics will lead to new
contributions to these co-evolving areas of
Computing Ethics Card Catalog drawer sketch by Don
1. ACM home page; www.acm.org. Accessed 2018
2. Austin, R., Barnes, B., et al. Curriculum ‘ 78
Communications of the ACM 22 , 3, (1979), 147–166.
3. Bynum, T. W. A very short history of computer ethics.
APA Newsletters on Philosophy and Computers 99.2
4. Committee on Professional Ethics home page;
https://ethics.acm.org. Accessed 2018 March 20.
5. Fiedler, C. partial list of computer ethics courses;
90944. Accessed 2018 March 20.
6. Florentine, S. Should Software Developers have a
Code of Ethics? CIO January 11, 2017; https://www.
developers-have-a-code-of-ethics.html. Accessed 20
7. Gotterbarn, D. Bruckman, A. Flick, C., Miller, K. W.,
Wolf, M. J. ACM Code of Ethics: A Guide for Positive
Action, Communications of the ACM, 61, 1 (2018),
121–128. DOI: 10.1145/3173016
8. McLaren, M. and Ashley, K. Context sensitive case
comparisons in practical ethics: reasoning about
reasons. In Proceedings of the 5th international
conference on Artificial intelligence and law (ICAIL
‘95) College Park, MD, USA — May 21–24, 1995.
9. Roberts, E. Strategies for using technology in the
teaching of ethics. I TiCSE ’98 Proceedings, (Dublin
City University). DOI: 10.1145/282991.283127
10. Self-driving car fatality; https://www.nytimes.
html . Accessed 2018 March 19.
11. Sidlo, C. M. The making of a profession.
Communications of the ACM, 4, 9 (1961), 366–367.
12. Singer, N. Tech’s Ethical ‘Dark Side’: Harvard,
Stanford, and Others Want to Address It, New York
Times, February 12, 2018; https://www.nytimes.
courses.html. Accessed 2018 March 20. The article is
also summarized and repeated by Sam Hodgson On
February 14, 2018 in ACM TechNews; https://cacm.
2018 March 26.
13. Software Engineering Code; https://ethics.acm.
Accessed 2018 March 20.
14. Spanish Software Engineering Society; https://
www.sistedes.es/informes-recursos/codigo-etico-y-practicas-profesionales. Accessed 2018 March 20.
15. Wiener, N. Cybernetics: Control and Communication in
the Animal and the Machine. Technology Press (1948).
Don Gotterbarn, emeritus
Department of Computing
East Tennessee State University
Johnson City, TN, USA
Marty J. Wolf
Department of Computer Science
Bemidji State University
Bemidji, MN, USA
Keith W. Miller
Orthwein Endowed Professor for
Lifelong Learning in the Sciences
College of Education
University of Missouri
St, Louis, MO USA
Centre for Computing and Social
DOI: 10.1145/3204466 Copyright held by author
Figure 1: The Expanding Domain of Computing Ethics