published September 1, 2006

SENCER E-Newsletter, September 2006, Volume 6, Issue 1

SENCER Model of the Month: Computer Ethics

Terrell Ward Bynum, Southern Connecticut State University

Computer Ethics, taught by Professor Terrell Ward Bynum at Southern Connecticut State University, is an interdisciplinary, cross-listed course offered jointly by the Computer Science and Philosophy departments. It was created in 1988 to explore the intersection of technology, public policy, and professional ethics produced by the "information revolution." Since its inception, the course has evolved dramatically to reflect the rapid expansion of information technology and the civic and ethical challenges that have emerged from that expansion.

Terrell Ward Bynum

The course content is organized around a number of issues that are of immediate concern, including threats to privacy from massive databases, high-speed networks, data mining, workplace surveillance, the electronic theft of intellectual property (such as music, video, film, and text), and catastrophic computer-related accidents (such as airplane crashes and nuclear power plant shutdowns). More speculative issues, such as the ethical and social-justice implications of non-human intelligence (cyborgs and robots) and unequal access to computer technology are also addressed. Using these civic questions as a starting point, students explore the computing and information technologies that provoked them, such as data mining and matching, disclosure algorithms, pattern recognition, encryption and decryption, cyborg and robot technologies, and decision-making software.

Although the course includes lectures by the instructor or visiting scholars, active learning is emphasized through online discussions on the WebCT site and group projects undertaken in five-person research teams. Three quarters of the students in the course are undergraduate majors in the BS Program of the Computer Science Department, and the remaining 25 percent are students from the humanities or social sciences. The course is writing intensive, and assignments include graded proposals, outlines, drafts and revisions. Professor Bynum is proud to report that students taking the course have contributed to its development over the years by contributing topics and case studies for the textbook that emerged from the course. Beginning in the Fall 2005 semester, students whose research results were exceptional and of use to others have been invited to publish them on the web site of the Research Center on Computing & Society, an influential Computer Ethics site with two million hits per year from over 120 countries.

Terrell Ward Bynum is Professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, Director of the Research Center on Computing and Society there, and Visiting Professor at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. He is a lifetime member of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Past Chair of the Committee on Professional Ethics of the Association for Computing Machinery, and Past Chair of the Committee on Philosophy and Computers of the American Philosophical Association.