Moral Considerations for the Development of Information and Communication Technology

Moral Considerations for the Development of Information and Communication Technology

Darek M. Haftor (Stockholm University, Sweden & Linnaeus University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-057-0.ch039
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This text reports findings from an inquiry into the normativity inherent within the developmental work of Information and communication Technologies (IT). While IT has arrived to human affairs to stay, and may be used both for good and bad, it has an unparalleled potential to impact our world! There exists a considerable set of research contributions that address the normative aspects of IT-usage – which is important! However, the process of IT-development is also important as it may be regarded as foundational for the IT-usage – it is during the development that important normative decisions are made that will open and close possible kinds of IT-usage. Unfortunately, there are few research contributions that inquire the ethical considerations inherent in the developmental work of an IT-artefact. Further, the few contributions that exist seem to assume a particular moral stance and are typically articulated in terms of a moral code of conduct. Unlike such contributions, the present text advances a conceptual framework for the guidance of IT-professionals’ ethical considerations during the development of IT-artefacts. This framework offers a set of conceptual categories that support a formulation of specific questions, to help to unearth inherent moral norms. The proposed framework distinguishes between the typical kind of working phases when an IT-artefact is developed and the kind of stakeholders that both can make moral decisions and those that can be impacted buy such decisions.
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Assume a situation where a computerised information system is developed and, in the course of this development, subjected to various functional tests in order to assure desired system quality. The following normative question may emerge: Should the anticipated users test the new system, or not? Assume further that there are various types of anticipated users, e.g. those well acquainted with using systems and those who are not. In such an instance: should representatives from both groups be used to conduct tests, or not? – And why?

This is the type of practical situation addressed in this text as we present some of the preliminary findings from an ongoing inquiry into the normative considerations of Information and Communication Technology (IT) and its professionals. While no final answers to these questions will be provided here, a conceptual framework will be introduced, aimed to guide normative considerations and decisions in the course of the development of IT-artefacts. The remaining part of this Introduction provides a context to this inquiry and then presents a structure for the text as a whole.

Information and communication technologies are embedded in most human and social affairs, and this embedding is most likely to continue. The assumption here is that as with any technology, IT may be both good and bad, depending on how it is utilised. Unlike any other technology, however, IT possesses the unique ability to affect our world, which requires careful normative and particularly moral consideration. While most such moral inquiries today seem to address the question of how to use an IT-artefact that has been constructed and deployed, the present inquiry focuses on the moral conditions of the actual development of an IT-artefact and its master: the IT-professional!

This text presents two interrelated discussions. First, an elaboration of some of the central moral characteristics of technology in general and specifically IT. This provides the context for the second elaboration which addresses the structures of norms embedded in the development process of an IT-artefact, including its key stakeholders. The outcome of elaboration is a proposed conceptual framework aimed to guide moral reflections of IT-professionals during their development of IT-artefacts.

Unlike other contributions to this area, this elaboration does not attempt to provide another code of moral conduct for IT-professionals, which must inevitably be based upon a selection of ethical values.1 Rather, the framework proposed here aims to guide the moral reflections of the IT-professional independently of moral convictions, be they utilitarian, deontological, Christian, or other. Figure 1 illustrates the positioning of this inquiry. As the conceptual framework presented here is in the midst of its development, the final part of this text offers some suggestions for its further development.

Figure 1.

Illustration of the position of this inquiry, namely to provide guidance for moral reflections upon the development of an IT-artefact, as conducted by IT-professionals

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