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Where Are We?

I have a course this term named Professional Practice in Computer Science. It talks about the ethic issues in computer science area.

During the course, our professor read some paragraph from a book named Computer Ethics, written by Deborah Johnson. In the Preface, Johnson mentioned that the first edition of the book was released when she gave birth to her daughter about 25 years ago. And now (about 2001), her daughter had became a teenager and was much comfortable with computers than herself.

When our professor read this, he asked us “Where are WE?” Deborah Johnson is a philosopher and is not as good as her daughter at operating computer. Why all of the social issues about computer science are discussed by those who are not professional at computer at all? Lots of times those people, such as lawyers, philosophers or sometimes computer engineers, make technically wrong ideas. However, we don’t see many computer scientists sit at the table and talk about their ideas.

Computer scientists always lock themselves in a dark basement and do the technical stuff. They have push the computer science forward a lot, indeed. But they seldom care about how do those techniques affact to our society.

Our professor’s opinion is like we, as a computer scientist, should go out from our basement, discuss our right ideas with other people, and make some effects to the computer science in our society. While I have an opposite idea.

What I think is the power of people is limited. People who talk about society in public are most of those people because it their job. A lawyer or a philosopher are likely to talk with public and persuade others. But a computer scientist is different. As a scientist, we’d like to make as mush as affect to our own area, science, instead of social. Anyone can think about Donald Knuth coming out to talk about computer ethics when he is suppose to do as much work as possible on TAOCP?

Anyway, the society belongs to all of us, include computer scientists. What we need is to so as much as we can in our profession, and leave the social part to the people who are suppose to do it.

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