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Ethics - What would you do?
You often hear about unethical behaviours, be it in politicians or popstars, but getting to grips with ethics, which deals with issues about what behaviours are right and wrong, is an important part of computer science too. Find out about it and at the same time try our ethical puzzle below and learn something about your own ethics...
Is that legal?
Ethics are about the customs and beliefs that a society has about the way people should be treated. These beliefs can be different in different countries, sometimes even between different regions of the same country, which is why it's always important to know something about the local area when going on holiday. You don't want to upset the local folk. Ethics tend to form the basis of countries' laws and regulations, combining general agreement with practicality. Sticking your tongue out may be rude and so unethical, but the police have better things to do than arrest every rude school kid. Similarly, slavery was once legal, but was it ever ethical? Laws and ethics also have other differences; individuals tend to judge unethical behaviour, and shun those who behave inappropriately, while countries judge illegal behaviour - using a legal system of courts, judges and juries to enforce laws with penalties.
Dilemmas, what to do?
Now imagine you have the opportunity to go treading on the ethical and legal toes of people across the world from the PC in your home. Suddenly the geographical barriers that once separated us vanish. The power of computer science, like any technology, can be used for good or evil. What is important is that those who use it understand the consequences of their actions, and choose to act legally and ethically. Understanding legal requirements, for example contracts, computer misuse and data protection are important parts of a computer scientist's training, but can you learn to be ethical?
Computer scientist's study ethics to help them prepare for situations where they have to make decisions. This is often done by considering ethical dilemmas. These are a bit like the computer science equivalent of soap opera plots. You have a difficult problem, a dilemma, and have to make a choice. You suddenly discover you have a unknown long lost sister living on the other side of the Square, do you make contact or not, (on TV this choice is normally followed by a drum roll as the episode ends).
Give it a go
Here is your chance to try an ethical dilemma for yourself. Read the alternatives and choose what you would do in this situation. Then click on the link. Like all good 'personality tests' you find out something about yourself: in this case which type of ethical approach you have in the situation according to some famous philosophers. There are also some fascinating facts to impress your mates.
Your Dilemma and your ethical personality
You are working for a company who are about to launch a new computer game. The adverts have gone out, the newspapers and TV are ready for the launch ... then the day before you are told that there is a bug, a mistake, in the software. It means players sometimes can't kill the dragon at the end of the game. If you hit the problem the only solution is to start the final level again. It can be fixed they think but it will take about a week or so to track it down. The computer code is hard to fix as it's been written by 10 different people and 5 of them have gone on a back-packing holiday so can't be contacted.