Consequences of Computing:
A Framework for Teaching

The Conceptual Framework - Page 8 of 36

The Interaction of the Dimensions

The shaded areas in Figure 2 presents a picture of hypothetical areas of social and ethical concern for four particular technologies. Note that each technology will have differing areas of concern, and that each area is described by both a level of social analysis and an ethical issue. As stressed earlier, each of the three analytical approaches represented by the three dimensions in Figure 2 (ethics, social science, technology) is important in its own right. Each has its own practitioners, literature, and approach. The principles and skills associated with each dimension will be considered in more detail below. But, it is important to note that any ethical or social issue in computing will always be multidimensional and thus requires caref ul presentation. Some knowledge of these dimensions on the part of the instructor would be essential to the success of a course on social and ethical issues in computing. Many readings or texts are likely to assume some disciplinary slant, and familiarity with the discipline will help in explaining the assumptions and predilections of a particular slant.

However, the important thing to note is that all three approaches are essential to understanding any particular issue. General principles about social analysis may be useful, but need to be connected with their implications for ethical practice in computer science. Ethical principles of argument need to be anchored in the uses and effects of particular technologies at particular levels of social analysis. Reviews of the various technologies available need to be conducted in light of the social situations and ethical concerns they raise.

Figure 2. An example of different technologies and their areas of concern

This multidimensionality is represented in Figure 2. You can see that any particular issue, such as privacy in corporate records or risks in medical technology will cover many levels of social analysis, several different ethical issues, and will be spread across differing implementations of the technology. A careful analysis of any issue must address all these dimensions. Even a short analysis like one found in a module in a course needs at least to make students aware of the complexity of what may seem to be a simple problem.