A Gift of Fire

Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology

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This book has two intended audiences: students preparing for careers in computer science (and related fields) and students in other fields who want to learn about issues that arise from digital technology, the Internet, and other aspects of cyber- space. The book has no technical prerequisites. Instructors can use it at various levels, in both introductory and advanced courses about computing or technology.

Many universities offer courses with titles such as “Ethical Issues in Computing” or “Computers and Society.” Some focus primarily on professional ethics for computer professionals. Others address a wide range of social issues. The bulky subtitle and the table of contents of this book indicate its scope. We also include historical background to put some of today’s issues in context and perspective.

Students (in computer and information technology majors and in other majors) will face a wide variety of issues in this book as members of a complex technologi- cal society, in both their professional and personal lives. We believe it is important for students to see and understand the implications and impacts of the technology.

The last chapter focuses on ethical issues for computer professionals. The basic ethical principles are not different from ethical principles in other profes- sions or other aspects of life: honesty, responsibility, and fairness. However, within any one profession, special kinds of problems arise. Thus, we discuss professional ethical guidelines and case scenarios specific to computing profes- sions and we include two of the main codes of ethics and professional practices for computer professionals in an Appendix. We placed the professional ethics chapter last because we believe students will find it more interesting and useful after they have as background the incidents, issues, and controversies in the earlier chapters.

Each of the chapters in this book could easily be expanded to a whole book. We did not have space in the book to discuss many interesting topics and examples, so we placed some of these topics in exercises and hope these will spark further reading and debate.

-- Sara & Tim


For Instructors

From Pearson's Learning makes us Webinar Series:

Lighting a Fire with Engaging Ethics in Computer Science!

For many computer science or engineering students, an ethics course may seem a distraction compared to courses that clearly apply to the major. Getting a student to enthusiastically engage in ethics discussions requires the topics, examples, and scenarios to relate closely to what students have already learned, what they will do in the field, and what is currently in the news. Dr. Henry brings his years of experience in the IT industry to the classroom and talks about applying ethics principles to projects in other courses and the workplace. The goal is to inspire each student to spark change in themselves and in the world outside of the classroom.


The Myth of Prometheus

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the creator of mankind. The goddess Athene taught him architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, and metallurgy, and he in turn taught them to humans. Zeus, the chief of the Greek gods, became angry at Prometheus for making people powerful by teaching them all these useful skills.

When the gods chose Prometheus as arbiter in a dispute, he fooled the gullible Zeus into picking the worst parts of the sacrificial bull by hiding them under a rich layer of fat. To punish Prometheus, Zeus withheld fire from men. "Let them eat their flesh raw," he declared. In response, Prometheus, snuck up to Mount Olympus, lit a torch from the sun, and hid a burning piece of charcoal in a hollow stalk. He slipped away with it and thus delivered fire to mankind.

Zeus, as revenge, tried unsuccessfully to trick Prometheus' brother, Epimetheus, into accepting the beautiful but mischievous Pandora as a gift. Epimetheus, mindful of earlier advice from his brother, refused. Even madder now that his trick had failed, Zeus had Prometheus chained naked to a pillar in the Caucasian mountains. A griffon-vulture ate at Prometheus' liver all day long. During the bitter cold of the mountain night, the liver became whole again. 

So it went day after day, year after year. Epimetheus married Pandora in an effort to free his brother. Pandora -- as devilish as she was beautiful -- opened the famous box in which Prometheus had shut up all the evils that might plague mankind: Old Age, Labor, Sickness, Insanity, Vice and Passion. 

Only years later, at the behest of Heracles (Hercules), did Zeus free Prometheus. 

(Source of information: Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Moyer Bell Ltd., 1955.)