Computer systems and responsibility: A normative look at technological complexity

Ethics and Information Technology 7 (2):99-107 (2005)
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Abstract

In this paper, we focus attention on the role of computer system complexity in ascribing responsibility. We begin by introducing the notion of technological moral action (TMA). TMA is carried out by the combination of a computer system user, a system designer (developers, programmers, and testers), and a computer system (hardware and software). We discuss three sometimes overlapping types of responsibility: causal responsibility, moral responsibility, and role responsibility. Our analysis is informed by the well-known accounts provided by Hart and Hart and Honoré. While these accounts are helpful, they have misled philosophers and others by presupposing that responsibility can be ascribed in all cases of action simply by paying attention to the free and intended actions of human beings. Such accounts neglect the part played by technology in ascriptions of responsibility in cases of moral action with technology. For both moral and role responsibility, we argue that ascriptions of both causal and role responsibility depend on seeing action as complex in the sense described by TMA. We conclude by showing how our analysis enriches moral discourse about responsibility for TMA.

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Thomas M. Powers
University of Delaware

Citations of this work

Philosophy of technology.Maarten Franssen - 2010 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Technology ethics assessment: Politicising the ‘Socratic approach’.Robert Sparrow - 2023 - Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility (2):454-466.
Computing and moral responsibility.Merel Noorman - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Robots: ethical by design.Gordana Dodig Crnkovic & Baran Çürüklü - 2012 - Ethics and Information Technology 14 (1):61-71.

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