Sarah Spiekermann


In my first blog I described why I want to blog about the ethical machine. But actually you may have noticed that there can't be anything like an ethical machine. A machine can't be ethical, because to be ethical is not a trait and the adjective "ethical" strictly does not exist. It is just a word play. It is a word play I use to describe a deep drive in the tech world and in the hacker scene crystallized in the claim: "Be Good" (or at least "Don't be evil"). Many hackers (like the guys from Anonymous) certainly believe that they are among the good ones (no?). Viviane Reding, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Lawrence Lessig and Kader Arif (ACTA : „une mascarade à laquelle je ne participerai pas...") are stars among the ‘good ones' (personal opinion). Many of us believed Apple to be good (potentially confusing to be good with being beautiful, a common human pitfall...). Google tells its employees "Don't be evil" (at least...). And Microsoft's much more honest lack of the ‘good-claim' is what brought them so many more viruses than they (and us) actually deserve. But what does it actually mean to be good? (This is what ethics is about).

"Code is Law"

Well, I may take this back at some point in time (or not), but at this moment I think to be good means nothing else than to honestly care. To care and not only do blindly code to get your systems up and running. Because: "Code is Law" (in case you didn't know yet...). We need to care for building machines that are in line with our moral expectations and the norms upon which our societies are built: freedom (of opinions, ideas and actions), dignity (I will blog about airport body-scanners next week), respect for privacy, freedom from bias, accountability, responsibility, courtesy, calmness, environmental sustainability and (most important from my perspective) human control.

Not their problem

But do engineers care? A study by great colleagues of mine (Marc Langheinrich und Saadi Lahlou) found some rather disappointing counter-evidence that I see reigning everywhere around me in the tech world: When engineers were asked about privacy issues as related to prototype development, the issues were viewed either as an abstract problem, not an immediate problem, not a problem at all (firewalls and cryptography would take care of it), not their problem (one for politicians, lawmakers, or society), or simply not part of the project deliverables. Wow, I hope they did not interview ‘the good ones'... (, 16.2.2012)

Deutsche Version

Hacker, Google, Apple - wer sind die Guten?