Ethics in Software.

Why should we care about ethics?

About ethics

Ethics is a major branch of philosophy. In simple terms, it is the study of values and customs of a person or a group. In even simpler terms: the philosophy on how to act. It usually implies concepts of right and wrong, and is all about the consequences of what we do, and how we do it. Examples of ethical paradigms are consequentialism (judge on the consequences whatever the means), deontology (judge the means, whatever the consequences), or virtue (if you're a good person you will do good).

Likewise, politics is the study of the relative distribution of power, authority and privileges in human societies. Software has introduced a major shift in the economics, social, information and political fields, and the choices we make in the design, implementation and dissemination of software products has a direct impact on them. Developing software is a political act.

Software is eating the world

We use software every day. States and big companies have digitalised a great part of our data: our habits, through phones, computers, purchases, network connections and bank transactions, are known and stored somewhere.

Software enables us to fly, and can on occasions cause planes to crash. Software makes us live longer and better lives, and sometimes kills us whilst trying to do so. Software enables us to hear and see the whole world, but is sometimes used to deceive us. And if war comes upon us, then we'll probably be killed by some software-engineered weapons.

The consequences of software

Software has personal, communitarian, social and environmental consequences. Most people do not have the knowledge and skills to understand the consequences of software-related decisions or concerns.

We, as hackers, developers and software practitionners, have a duty towards others: direct and indirect users of the software we produce, members of our communities, users of software around us. We need to explain, educate, help and make them understand the impact of software on humans, societies and nature. We are the experts. And with great power comes great responsibility.