To Serve Man, with Software

This problem is made worse because often you can’t always tell bad code from it’s outward appearance. So you end up with bad programmers writing code that “just works” without regard for good practices, much less for getting better at their craft.

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I haven’t seen that code of conduct before, thanks! I know a couple places that can start using it today. Couldn’t say whether it would improve the troubles you mention, but it seems like the right approach to me.

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Season 1 Episode 1 is a twisted parable for the Twitter age; a political thriller involving the kidnapping of fictional Princess Susannah, a much-loved member of the British Royal Family; Prime Minister Michael Callow deals with the crisis. It involves blackmailing the PM and a pig and the story line may cross a line for many people. It might not be the best episode to start the series but I wouldn’t skip the whole first season.

Each episode has different actors and topics so unlike STNG (and other series), the cast and story line doesn’t improve with time.

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The DestroyBaghdad method is a pretty clear-cut case of code doing bad things. But what about more subtle cases of “software development malpractice?”

I think this comes back to the whole “professionalisation of IT” idea that’s been making the rounds for a half-century. I’m a member of the Canadian Information Processing Society (, which tries to regulate that problem similar to how engineers, doctors and lawyers do it. They’ve got a professional body of knowledge, a code of ethics, certification for university and college programs and legislated rights to a designation in many jurisdictions.

Personally, I like the idea of going to jail if my code kills people or causes significant loss or I act unethically/unprofessionally and someone is harmed by my work. I really think that what we do is important enough to society that society mandates that we do it well.

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It seems the subject of this post is a thing. I got this for Christmas:


It is a start into the endeavour of “programming less badly” like the German title of this book translates.

It seems to me that you missed the whole point of that example :slight_smile:

Are you truly a programmer? :stuck_out_tongue:

DestroyBaghdad() makes perfectly good sense if all you have is Baghdad. In the general case I agree it’s bad programming, I’m just saying that never is too strong a word–there are edge cases where it makes sense.

It’s received not recieved. :expressionless:

I think the point of the quote is that programmers’ ethics are concerned with how code is written, rather than the ethics of the resulting action when the code is executed. i.e., this method to destroy a city could be improved by accepting any city so not just Baghdad could be destroyed.

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It’s a bit disconcerting that you only like the series once it becomes all American and polished :wink: I admit the very first episode is a bit of a flop but S01E03 is one of the best of the entire show IMO.

Oh yes most of the episodes are fantastic. In fact almost all of them!

“American sensibilities” - Being turned off by scenes involving beastiality is an American thing? Good grief. I also watched the first episode and never went back. I may still give it another go, but that first episode was a dubious choice by the producers at best. I get the message it was trying to send but it was so revolting that it overwhelmed the message. And I would argue that the supposed criticism of modern culture was not nearly as concerning or offensive as man buggering a pig. Not even close.

Well. I know this sounds stupid to just say it this way. But I strongly would recommend to say “By not support em be worse to others.”

Why? Here in Germany I became the strong feeling that this is what software started to be: Support for some, to be worse to many. Twitter and Fb Messages with just some tousand likes become “big topics” in the news, the politics, the society. It feels like that social networks started to become a tool to outsmart democracy with a new kind of force. And of course I dont say “change the software!” - Its a design flaw. The engineers did not saw this coming. But isnt that the thing about ethic engineering? To see the bad sides, too?

We had a strong argument in college staff when someone wanted to make students to apply on a “land a quadcopter on a driving car”-Contest - given out by Saudi Arabian Goverment. Some people said “dont you see the flaw?!” others said “why should I?”

In fact. History showed us why we should care. Just because we can apply something, like a factory, on human “ressources” we learned that we should not. I hope we will start doing this on software, too.

If we’re to agree that the developer wishes to serve man with software but is beholden to corporate management and the requirement to write DestroyCity routines and whatever else may be required for other military, AI or Facebook algorithm, should all these developers and their management be trained in ethics and corporate social responsibility? Peace-loving folk will develop software for missile guidance systems just like war mongers might develop software for CND sites as people’s values are not always mutually exclusive to their jobs. At what point does one cross the line between doing their job or doing something morally ambiguous and actually being malevolent?
Is there even an outlet where such people can express and debate the ethics of their actions? If we consider The Trolley Problem surely there are numerous similar dilemmas faced by developers and others (Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden et al) every day.

“…how can our software help people become the best version of themselves?”

Our software cannot. Only theirs can. The way it can is by showing them the difference between what humans are good at and what machines are good at. Trying to make machines do, leave aside get good at, the things that humans are good at, is a mug’s game; and vice versa.

I speak in principle and purposely do not engage, e.g., the issues surrounding the use of computing as an all-purpose eraser of accountability.

Someone may have said this already, but there isn’t a lot of money in helping people grow and become better persons of themselves, not relative to the amount of money in feeding our immediate and impulsive instincts and desires.

So, doing or creating anything (software, a school, etc) to help people grow will be challenging.

Re: “DestroyBaghdad” - while I realize this is a joke, it is a highly insensitive one. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and maimed in Iraq and Syria. Making a joke out of the situation is plain wrong.

To put it in perspective: In light of the recent school shootings in the U.S., would you joke about it in any form or manner? Why would you joke about destroying a city? Do you feel comfortable joking about it because the geography is far away from you?

You should direct those questions to the author of the joke, who is not me. It’s also at least 15 years old.

You should direct those questions to the author of the joke, who is not me. It’s also at least 15 years old.

Jeff, that’s a cop-out. You are more at fault by giving high level visibility to the joke; the original author is not a well-known personality as you are. And the joke being 15 years old doesn’t make it any less offensive; rather, makes you even more at fault for digging it up.

Interesting that the author of the joke did not use Hiroshima as the example city; DestroyHiroshima sounds immediately offensive (at least to me). But DestroyBaghdad is a joke? So, there seems to be hidden levels of insensitivity and racism in this very offensive “joke”.

Destruction of a city should not be the subject of a joke. Of course, it is easy to be sitting pretty in the U.S., while cities get destroyed in the Middle East.

He’s well known within the field; look him up on Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. And the reason he makes that joke is to highlight precisely the ethical situations programmers should have been at least peripherally aware of from the earliest days. It’s the same point I’m making, which is even more relevant today.