will give the professional relevant information, will listen to what the professional says, and ultimately share in
the decisions that must be made.
The fiduciary model seems the best
model to emulate because it recognizes
both the multidimensional character
of decision making in computing and
the differential in knowledge between
experts and non-experts. Computer experts aren’t just building and manipulating hardware, software, and code,
they are building systems that help to
achieve important social functions,
systems that constitute social arrangements, relationships, institutions, and
What is the simple message in all
of this? In a word, it is “trust.” In two
words, it is “public trust.” I used the
fiduciary model as the model for all areservingclientsandemployers.
expert/non-expert relationships when Whether the field of computing
in reality there are significant differ- evolves to come closer to the paradigm
ences between a client-professional, of a profession (or not), whether com-employer-employee, and expert-public puter experts choose to see themselves
relationship. However, one of the dis- as guns-for-hire (or not), computer extCin ACgMuislhiifnegtifemaetumreems ohfaplr fofpeasgseionasd,:aLsayouptert 1s m9u/s4t/a0c8t so4a:s0t4o bPeMwoPrathgy e o1f pub-hinted at earlier, is that they are com- lic trust. There is much to be gained in
mitted to public good even when they doing this and much to be lost in fail-
virtue of their
expertise, in virtue
of their occupational
roles, and simply
because so many
on their work.
ure. If computer experts don’t act in a
manner that garners and maintains
public trust, then the field and its potential to create enormous benefit will
not be fully realized. Sure, computing
won’t go away, but progress will be
slowed and diverted as outside regulators jump in and the public has a mixed
experience. Computer experts have
power—in virtue of their expertise, in
virtue of their occupational roles, and
simply because so many non-experts
depend on their work. While it is rarely acknowledged and even less often
stated, this power has been implicitly
granted on the basis of a tacit promise
that computers and computing would
make for a better world. We go forward
building computer infrastructures for
essential functions and the public—
which does not have the expertise to
judge—presumes this is for the good.
While computing has taken some positive steps to develop public trust, a lot
more could be done.
Deborah G. Johnson ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Anne
Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics at the
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.
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