Ethics Primer

What does it mean to do ethics in software development?

As a primer, this report responds to the need to craft Ethics by Design as an engaging practice of ‘response-ability’, whereby practitioners feel empowerd to respond to the complex questions that emerge at the interface of software development and society. It does so by returning to the basics in approaching new aspects of technology and society interactions, especially, to explore and challenge the assumptions on which the widespread principle-based check-box approach to Ethics by Design rests.

Based on and foregrounding key issues and open questions that were identified during the lifetime of the SIMPORT project, this primer addresses interdisciplinary teams of software developers and ethicists to:

  • Pause and reflect on the social and cultural dimension of their practice. In this respect, this primer presents a making-sense exercise for software developers to reflect on a number of elements that can be invisible to them but are highly relevant from an ethical perspective on technology development. 
  • Empower them to respond to the ethical issues that arise at the interface of software development and society instead of importing generic approaches. For that purpose, this primer envisions a ‘geography of response-ability’, comprising narratives, practices and attitudes, to navigate the complex socio-technical landscape of digital innovation.
  • Challenge them to collaborate beyond socio-technical divides and mutual prejudices. Integrating ethical and social considerations in software development practice does not require subordinated ethicists that assure ethical clearance, nor is it served by high-brow armchair critique. What it does require is people who are eager to get to know each other’s ideas and frames of thought, develop a shared language and, on that basis, make joint development decisions they are ready to defend from an ethical perspective.