Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Ethics and IT

I was recently offered employment at an investment bank in London, to which I respectfully declined.  The agent I was dealing with was somewhat surprised and wanted to know why.  I told him that I couldn't bring myself to work for the banksters.  He was amused and replied "should my moral compass change..." the offer still stood.  Interesting.

I never considered my moral compass to be so fluid, to actually consider assisting corporate criminals rape the general public. What? Bigger? Better? Faster? More Efficiently?  I suppose I could find a way to justify it, but I couldn't see myself telling someone that is what I did for a living.

I, like the next guy, seeks to be well rewarded for their work.  That doesn't automatically mean I do anything just because the rate is high.  I consider my services to be valuable and the products I produce hopefully forward the goals and aims of my client.  I mean, why do it at all if some good doesn't come out of it?

I was discussing this point with some friends; where do you draw the line?  I knew where my line was.  But it occurred to me that I shouldn't assume everyone has or is even aware of "The Line".  That there may be some people in the IT industry who will simply work on any project provided the price was right.

Would you design software which assisted a pharmaceutical company to develop new mind-altering drugs which may result in suicide or mayhem?

Or how about software which controls a guided missile that has an impressive kill-ratio?  (no, it's not the X-Box)

No? Well somebody does.

Now, these are not new questions.  While at engineering school we had a Technology and Ethics course, but it never delved into these types of issues (which may have had something to do with the Department of Defence contracts).  Maybe no course can answer these questions, maybe only you can come up with an answer you can live with.

So, in addition to the legalised drug pushers and the war-mongers we add a new villain (well, not new, just newly exposed) - the Banker, purveyors of economic chaos and destruction.  The respected banker, pillar of the community.  Lovely.

If your love of banking is so strong, why not work for the Financial Services Authority?  I hear they're quite busy and need all the help they can get.


Rob Kent said...

I think it would depend on the bank. I wrote a financials trading app but that was before the crash when you could still believe that bankers were merely greedy, not evil and greedy.

I always turn down jobs that have anything to do with defence or the arms trade. I don't approve of the meat trade so I guess I would not write a pie simulator to help that industrial process.

I would have to think carefully about helping an organised religion.

My recent feeble experience in this regard is that I am working in an office that is next to the Edo factory. I support the SmashEdo protesters cause but not their methods.

Every day I order a sandwich from our receptionist and then I discovered that the sandwiches are made as a sideline by the Edo canteen staff. Am I supporting Edo and war crimes in Gaza by eating my sandwich? I need to munch on the ethics of that one for a while.

Hope you are well and thriving Mister Gramann.

rgramann said...

Hey Rob, good to hear from you! Hope you are well.
Interesting comments, and in general I agree. I've come to the conclusion that it is a matter of proximity and one's sphere of influence.
You could say paying taxes and simply residing in the UK one is supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, for the average citizen, changing this situation is considered beyond their sphere of influence.
The closer they are, the higher potential influence, the greater responsibility.
This may sound like a justification, and it may be. But I think it is a reality.

This is starting to sound like lunch :)