"I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that": Ethics in Software Development

A1 | Wed 23 Jan | 2:25 p.m.–3:10 p.m.

Presented by

  • Dr. Morgan Leigh

    Morgan lives on a farm in sunny Tasmania where she ponders the ontological status of cyberspace and raises tasty animals. She is a pagan theologian, farmer, virtual world developer, and has a tragic science fiction addiction. Morgan's work centers on the ontological status of the remixes we call reality. Having pondered about cyberspace a lot, she did a PhD about it. It’s called Virtually Real: Being in Cyberspace, and you can see it at https://eprints.utas.edu.au/22422/ It's all about how things that happen online aren't "just games" or "not real" or "only code", but are real, actual things that people really care about and that affect the meatspace world. Morgan is deeply concerned about copyright and its destructive effect on our society, especially in the academy. She even has a theological argument against it! Ask her, she'll tell you all about it. She thinks current copyright law is a destructive illusion that we can't afford to entertain.


We all know how bad things went when the HAL 9000 computer was asked to lie in the film 2001: A space odyssey. As we enter into an era where all kinds of things have programming we need to establish a firm ethical foundation to avoid such disasters. As an artifact of late stage capitalism, software development has at its core the precept that if it makes money it's good. Developers have from the very first been tantalized with the prospect of riches, the core ethos of startup culture. This pursuit of riches above all compromises ethical development. Today with the vast expansion in the number of developers, most developers today are just working to pay the bills. When one depends on one's job to pay the bills one is likewise compromised when it comes to ethical boundaries. Are you really going to risk your options or quit your job just because they want you to cut a few corners or compromise users a tiny bit? It's only a wee bit. Honest. No one will know. We'll put it in a binary blob... Do developers need an ethical conscience, or are we just following orders? How do we decide where the line is that we can't cross? When do we have to start saying, "No, I won't do that thing". If Cambridge Analytica has taught us anything it's that there is a line we shouldn't cross. There are some things more important than money. It's time to work out what they are. In this talk I will help you to work out where your own ethical line is and show you the consequences of crossing it.