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Ethics in a computing culture
Brinkman W., Sanders A., Course Technology Press, Boston, MA, 2013. 384 pp. Type: Book (978-1-111531-10-2)
Date Reviewed: May 20 2015

Computing as a field has several aspects that both influence and complicate evaluations of ethics and morality. First, it is a new discipline, having been around less than one century. Second, computing serves different cultures: almost all human activities are being gradually integrated with computers. Computing is so widespread that most humans are part of some processes that include computing.

There exist several textbooks on computing ethics [1,2], which elaborate cases and discuss ethical decisions. They differ especially in the coverage of computing topics, in the extent of their inclusion of moral theories, and in the level of discussion provided (both abstraction and closeness to everyday life situations). Brinkman and Sanders’s textbook covers relativism, consequentialism, deontological theories, virtue theory, and contractarianism. Moreover, it also presents less frequently discussed theories such as common morality, the ethics of justice, and the ethics of caring.

I appreciate the multitude of case studies and applications discussed, including Facebook, Wikipedia, and video games. One case study is often presented in different contexts, thus requiring slightly different reasoning. The authors motivate and lead a reader to provide a “proof” for a particular decision and thereafter to dispute it. Students will like that case studies are often short stories.

The book is divided into nine chapters, two appendices, and an index. In each chapter, the authors give, after a short introduction, several cases, each followed by several reflection questions. The reflection questions are very focused. Each chapter is concluded by a summary, chapter exercises, list of works cited, and related readings.

There are several possible paths through the book, as each chapter can be read independently. After the necessary fundamentals of moral and ethical reasoning presented in chapter 1, the topics covered include: professional ethics and professional codes of ethics (chapter 2); privacy (chapter 3); intellectual and intangible property, such as copyrights, patents, trademarks, and plagiarism (chapter 4); human trust in computers, safety, and reliability (chapter 5); the ways computers and computing affect and change humans (chapter 6); freedom of expression and protecting that freedom, especially considering issues related to the Internet and the Web (chapter 7); and the effects of computing technologies on vulnerable groups such as children and the physically disabled (chapter 8).

The last chapter (9) addresses the ubiquity of computers. The authors discuss the potential benefits and risks of technologies, including autonomous computers that may be able to substitute for humans in particular activities. The book then ends with provocative cases on important questions such as “Who is responsible for autonomous systems?”

The best use of this book is for an independent one-semester undergraduate course on computing ethics. As a university professor in the information systems field, I will recommend this book to my colleagues for enriching their lectures on particular technical topics. I believe that the textbook can be used successfully with students from a wide variety of disciplines.

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Reviewer:  M. Bielikova Review #: CR143452 (1508-0689)
1) Johnson, D. G. Computer ethics (4th ed.). Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2009.
2) Reynolds, G. W. Ethics in information technology (5th ed.). Cengage Learning, Boston, MA, 2014.
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