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From Cybernetics to Computer Ethics

1K Blog Marathon: Day 33

All this time I didn’t know that Computer Programming has its own Code of Ethics!

Well, at least I have a hunch that we should follow certain guidelines and recite some Hippocratic Oath for programmers, or that I’m asking myself “is there any standards that a programmer should follow – aside from the fact that whatever he/she do will not be against the law?”

Of course, it turns out that there is!


Circa 1940, Norbert Weiner, an American scholar and professor first coined the term “Cybernetics”, which means “pilot of a ship” in Greek.

Fast forward to 1976, Walter Maner proposed “Computer Ethics”, and in the 1990s – Donald Gotterbarn said that this should be a professional ethics to standardize good practices for computing professionals.

Then ACM adopted this and laid their own Code of Ethics, which was approved by IEEE as a standard for “teaching” and “practicing” software engineering. Here are the guidelines:

1. Contribute to society and human well-being.

This is the first and I arguably believe the best ethic on the list. It’s our duty as programmers to come up with valuable programs that can help in advancing the human society and well-being. If it doesn’t help the world but instead make our life more difficult, it’s not worth creating.

2. Avoid harm to others.

Just like in the movie Autómata, the bots have to follow 2 protocols: 1) do no harm to any form of life, and 2) should not repair, modify or alter themselves or other bots. And besides, who will utilize the technology that can result mass destruction?

3. Be honest and trustworthy. 

I think it’s a basic one. But according to the code of ethics, it talks about the full disclosure of all your programming strengths, weaknesses and limitations – not only for the sake of the other parties but also for yourself.

4. Be fair and don’t discriminate.

Newbies, old-timers, fresh grads, regulars, black, white, brown, rainbow or even aliens – we have no right to judge, belittle and discriminate on and off the programming space.

5. Give proper credit for intellectual property.

Copyright issues! It’s a big problem, and even though we live in an open source community, let’s respect the hardships of others. Put yourself in their shoes whenever you will publish their own works under your name. What would you feel?

6. Respect the privacy of others. 

One of the biggest issue in our online life is our Privacy. Being a programmer, we handle different sensitive informations that should be properly cared. We should not leak, misuse or take advantage of these data. We should be the one protecting their privacy, because if we don’t do it, the deep dark web will be partying!

7. Honor confidentiality. 

Any collected information should remain confidential and not to be publicized. But in the case when the law requires the access to these informations, let’s still make sure that the data collected will be handled properly.

My Thoughts…

Well, the list goes on for this Code of Ethics. But whether it’s governed by standards or not, it’s our moral duty to do the best things for the benefit of humanity and programming itself. And with that, I will also list down my own (specific) guidelines…

  1. Debug all exceptions. If the time is limited, at least catch the error and document so in the future you or other programmers can solve the problem.
  2. Comment, comment, comment. It’s way better than documentation, because the documentation is already in the source code.
  3. Never code from your perception only – think of the end users.
  4. Seek for help online, but please don’t just copy/paste the code. At least try to understand.
  5. Don’t be selfish! Share your code! Like you are seeking for it, you should also help others.
  6. Aim to make a dent in the universe. You don’t have to be great and write your code in the face of the moon – just leave a dent in the universe.
  7. Spread the word. My advocacy is to uplift and raise awareness about programming in our country, The Philippines. I believe that technology is a main key in progress.

And that’s it folks, I hope something ignites inside your core with these simple messages. What do you think about our topic today?

“And that’s one blog, stay hungry!”

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”

Albert Camus

Published by Christian Foster

Code-blooded, coffee-lover, tall, dark and chubby. I love to draw, has motion-sickness and a sleepy-head. BTW, graduate of BS Computer Science, Associate in Computer Science and certified UiPath RPA Developer. Loyal to my partner and a father of a cute bouncing baby daughter!

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