The Relevancy of Ethics to Modern Life

Morality, Technology
and Value
After reading this chapter, the reader should be able to:
• Identify assumptions and values embedded in a particular computer product design including those of a cultural nature.
• Understand the moral value of technology.
• Understand the role morality plays in decision making.
• Describe positive and negative ways in which computing alters the way
decisions are made by different people.
• Explain why computing/network access is restricted in some countries.
• Analyze the role and risks of computing in the implementation of public
policy and government.
• Articulate the impact of the input deficit from diverse populations in the
computing profession.
Every time I am onboard an aircraft, I reflect on how technology has
drastically changed our lives. Great things have happened during my life to
make our lives easier. Planes, trains and automobiles have all been invented to
ease our daily needs and necessity of movement. Near miraculous drugs and
difficult- to-believe medical procedures have been made possible because of
technology. The advent of computer technology has opened a new chapter in
technological advances, all to make our lives easier so that we all can live good
Ken Funk defines technology as a rational process of creating a means to
order and transform matter, energy, and information to realize certain valued
ends.1 Technology is not a value. Its value depends on how we use it. Indeed,
technology is a utility tool like a device, system, or method that represents the
process to the good life. Technological processes have three components:
inputs, an engine, and outputs. For technology to be novel and useful to us as
a utility, the engine must be new and the outputs must have value to us. We
derive usefulness out of this utility based on the quality of that value in relation
to our value system. If the outputs of the processes have relevancy and contribute to the knowledge base that we routinely use to create other utilities
that ease our lives, then, the new technology has value. Otherwise, it is not a
good technology. We have seen and probably used many technologies that we
judge to be of no use to us.
What we call good and bad technologies are scaled on our value system.
If the process outputs are judged as having contributed to good knowledge in
our value system (moral values), then that technology is judged good and useful. We have seen many such technologies. However, we have also seen a myriad
of technologies that come nowhere near our value systems. These we call bad
technologies. So all judgments of technology are based on a set of value standards, our moral values.
There are many who will disagree with me in the way I define value, as
it is derived from technology. In fact, some argue that this value is subjective.
Others define it as objective. Many say it is intrinsic yet others call it instrumental. We are saying that this value is personal, hence, moral. In the end,
when we use technology, the value we derive from the technology and the
value we use in decision making while using the technology is based on one’s
beliefs and moral value system. This value scaling problem in the use of technology haunts all of us in the day- to-day use of technology and even more so
in decision making.
Moral Dilemmas, Decision Making,
and Technology
Dilemmas in decision making are quite common in our everyday activities. The process of decision making is complex: It resembles a mathematical
mapping of input parameters into output decisions. The input parameters in
the decision- making process are premises. Each premise has an attached value.
The mapping uses these values along with the premises to create an output,
which is the decision. For example, if I have to make the decision whether to
walk to church or take the car, the set of premises might include time, parking,
exercise, and gas. If I take the car, the values attached to the premises are saving
time, needing a parking space, not getting any exercise, and buying gas. However, if I decide to walk, my decision might be based on another set of premises
like: Walking to church one day a week is good exercise, and I will save money
by not buying gas. The mapping function takes these premises together with
4—Morality, Technology and Value 25
the values and outputs a “logical” decision. Dilemmas in decision making are
caused by one questioning the values attached to one’s premises as inputs to
the decision being made. One’s scaling of values to the inputs may be influenced
by a number of factors such as advances in technology and incomplete or misleading information.
Advances in Technology
Dilemmas are usually caused by advances in technology. Computer technology in particular has created more muddles in the decision- making process
than in any other technology. Advances in computer technology create a multitude of possibilities that never existed before. Such possibilities present professionals with myriad temptations.2
Incomplete or Misleading Information
Not having all the information one needs before making a decision can
be problematic. Consider the famous prisoners’ dilemma. Two people are
caught committing a crime, and they are taken to different interrogation rooms
before they have a chance to coordinate their stories. During the interrogation,
each prisoner is told that the other prisoner has agreed to plead guilty on all
charges. Authorities inform each prisoner that agreeing to plead guilty on all
charges as the other prisoner has done will bring him or her a reduced sentence.
Rejecting the plea will mean that the prisoner refuses to cooperate with the
investigation and may result in he or she receiving the maximum punishment.
Each prisoner has four recourses:
(i) plead guilty without the friend pleading guilty, which means deserting
a friend;
(ii) refuse to plead guilty while the friend pleads guilty, which means
betrayal and probably a maximum sentence;
(iii) plead guilty while the friend pleads guilty, which means light sentences
for both of them; or
(iv) both refuse to plead guilty and each receives either a light sentence or
a maximum sentence.
Whichever option the prisoners take is risky because they do not have
enough information to enable them to make a wise decision. There are similar
situations in professional life when a decision has to be made quickly and not
enough information is available. In such a situation, the professional must take
extra care to weigh all possibilities in the input set of premises with their corresponding values.