Leveraging the ACM Code of Ethics Against Ethical Snake Oil and Dodgy Development with Don Gotterbarn and Marty Wolf

We did it! The ACM revised, and with overwhelming support from its members, approved its updated Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.  Ethical champions enforcing the Code will make ethical lapses at tech companies a thing of the past. The Code has us covered. But, wait: THAT…IS…NOT…HOW…IT...WORKS!

Computing professionals are masters at using specialized knowledge as they navigate the complex process of developing systems. It is unlike any other production process in history. Unfortunately, the nature of computing is such that it leads us to fail to notice significant ethical challenges and to know how to address them.

The most insidious ethical challenges are those where there is unrecognized intentional harm. We identify some of the elements that contribute to unnoticed ethical challenges such as subtle privacy violations in Covid-19 tracking systems. We then suggest concrete strategies and specific proactive interventions that can be used by management, human resources, and developers to identify unnoticed ethical challenges and, importantly, address other serious challenges. These strategies change the software development process so that the odds of needing an ethical champion are lessened and, in the rare event that one is needed, odds are good that there are quite a few computing professionals around who know how to help.

Marty Wolf

Marty J. Wolf is a Professor of Computer Science at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota USA. He has over thirty years of experience teaching undergraduate computer science and has published research in theoretical computer science, bioinformatics, and graph theory. Over the last twenty years his research has focused on collaborative projects in computing and information ethics and the philosophy of computation. He has developed and taught a stand-alone computing ethics course to computer science undergraduates as well as computing ethics courses for non-CS majors. He is currently co-chair of the ACM Committee on Professional Ethics and was part of the team that led the recent update to the ACM Code of Ethics. He has extensive experience on interdisciplinary projects that involve the teaching of computing ethics. He is currently co-PI on a grant from the Mozilla Foundation to develop mechanisms for computer science faculty to better incorporate social and ethical issues into standard computer science projects.

Don Gotterbarn

Don Gotterbarn has extensive experience both in academia and software systems developer, working on systems for the U.S. Navy, the Saudi Arabian Navy, vote-counting machines, and missile defence.

He has spent several decades promoting responsible computing practices, including as director of the Software Engineering Ethics Research Institute and as a visiting professor at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility in England. He has taught at institutions like the University of Southern California, at government agencies like NSA, the Australian Department of Defense, and was a visiting scientist Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute. He led the 2018 update of the ACM Code of Ethics and the development of the IEEE/ACM Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. These contributions to responsible computing have resulted in him be awarded the ACM Outstanding Contribution Award (2005), the International Society for Ethics and Information Technology Joseph Weizenbaum Award (2010), and the ACM Presidential Award (2018).