Week 11: Social & Ethical Issues

The final (content-wise) topic is here and Patrick is at the lecture podium. I have refused to call this topic “Ethical & Social Issues” as stipulated in the course outline, because old habits die hard. Social & Ethical Issues were one of the leitmotifs of HSC IPT. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

(Much earlier.)

Patrick’s lecture points are as follows:

  1. Like a pebble dropped into a pond. The analogy here is that we introduce technology and it immediately has an impact at the individual sphere (Patrick calls this the ethical sphere). This ripples to wider society (Patrick calls this the social sphere). Finally, the legal system responds at the political sphere. Each sphere’s reaction is increasingly intense, which is why the legal system tends to overreact to issues created by technology. I actually quite like this analogy and it justifies the order “Ethical & Social” quite well.
  2. Trends to keep an eye on. Firstly, Moore’s Law – computing power doubles every 18 months – means that we can conduct data analysis much more quickly. Likewise, storage space cost is rapidly declining, so there’s more data to be analysed. Finally, communication systems are getting faster, even approaching the speed of light, and so we can share our data and analysis very easily.
  3. Specific issues. Patrick focuses particularly strongly on privacy (freedom from surveillance or interference), giving examples such as cookies, spyware, GPS, corporate keylogging, Google Street View and of course Facebook. He also brings up issues like IS Forensics and Intellectual Property, ending his lecture with a picture that reads, “1 illegal download = 3.3 dead relatives”. Put that into Google and (as of time of writing), you’ll be able to find the picture that he showed us.

The case study for this week has two options: (1) are companies monitoring their employees too much, and (2) are we using too much digital media?

The next Tony Tutorial is held on a rainy day. At UNSW, rainy days have a tendency to trigger the fire alarms (technology). Tony decides to evacuate us, albiet in a relaxed manner (ethical), and so, our tutorial class moves to the School of Information Systems Technology & Management in the UNSW quadrangle building to finish the lesson (social). I wonder if the university administration has a rule about this (legal). Tony has his own way of dealing with S&E issues; he puts particular emphasis on the changing nature of work and its impact on quality of life, the availability of Facebook to underage kids, and the fact that nobody reads the Terms and Conditions before clicking “Accept”.

The textbook has its own way of dealing with S&E issues, too. We’re given a run-down of meta-ethical foundations. Old favourites come up: Utilitarianism, Kant’s Categorial Imperative, The Golden Rule, as well as a few others which are (pardon me) slightly less cool. And, as you’d expect, we get a fairly comprehensive description of the big issues out there: privacy & IP (of course!), data quality, changing nature of work, ergonomics.

I, too, have a way of dealing with S&E issues that evolves out of all this, but it’s a very personal one, based on my interdisciplinary education experience during the past 4 years or so. HSC IPT focused on privacy and intellectual property, just as INFS1602 seems to. I also studied HSC Modern History, which focused on the usefulness and reliability of our sources and the censorship that may have muffled them. In HSC Economics, we looked at the global economy (globalisation) and we were taught a fancy-pants term for the changing nature of work – structural change. And, as my first semester at university draws to a close, I shall think of MGMT1001: organisational structure, change, teamwork, communication, leadership & power, individual thinking. I realise it is incredibly geeky that I’m generating a list of possible discussion points based on the subjects that I’ve completed since senior high school, but you’ve got to find what works for you.

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One thought on “Week 11: Social & Ethical Issues

  1. Pingback: Sample Exa | The INFS3611 Blog

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