Outstanding Service Award (2002) — C. Dianne Martin (Interview)

[Q1]: Looking back, what was it that first sparked your interest in computer/information ethics?

[A]:   I took a special topics course in Computers and Society in 1970 under Ron Becker at the U of Maryland. From that point on, it became a passion for me.

[Q]:   In the June 2001 Computers and Society Chair’s column, you said “One could argue that SIGCAS represents the social conscience of ACM.“ and later “After all, we are the conscience of ACM!”. Many have used this quote to explain the significance of SIGCAS. What prompted you to write this statement and do you think it is still true today?

[A]:   Yes, it is still true today. SIGCAS is very important to an organization such as ACM with a primary focus on technological advances. By calling attention to the social impact and ethical concerns caused by emerging technologies, SIGCAS raises the alarm about the unintended consequences of such technologies. With a membership comprised of social scientists, philosophers, psychologists, policy makers as well as computer scientists, SIGCAS provides the forum for a broad-based discussion of compelling societal issues. An example of the role of conscience played by SIGCAS was the development and adoption of the ACM Code of Ethics, led by SIGCAS membership.

[Q]: Your SIGCAS tenure and involvement in shaping social and professional issue discussions has been extensive. Describe your experiences as you and others worked on the development of the ACM Social and Professional Issues and the ACM Code of Ethics. What was the most rewarding experience?

[A]:   Working on the ACM Code of Ethics in 1990-92 was an amazing experience. The core group of people who helped to develop the code was committed to getting it right and providing a code that would stand the test of time. I believe that we succeeded. The other project involving SIGCAS members was the NSF-funded ImpactCS Project (1994-1998), in which we released three reports that provided the intellectual framework and defined the knowledge units for ethics and social impact to be integrated into the CS curriculum in a meaningful way. Again, the core group of about 25 people who worked on that project had diverse backgrounds and strong opinions, but they all agreed on the importance of the effort and were able to come to consensus to release the reports.

[Q]:   Please share one or two important papers that you suggest all SIGCAS members should read. What is the significance of these papers?

[A]:   Not to sound self-serving, but I do think that the ImpactCS papers are still valuable reading for CS faculty members. The first one provides the conceptual framework, the second one defines the knowledge units, and the third one discusses the importance of integrating these topics across the curriculum. They can still be found at the ImpactCS website: http://www.seas.gwu.edu/~impactcs/.

[Q2]: What are some of the most pressing social and professional issues on the horizon? Why?

[A]:   I continue to worry about how to impress the importance of professional ethics and responsible behavior on our students. With the newspapers full of financial meltdown caused by greed and tax cheaters being confirmed to high government office, it becomes a hard sell. The other issue is the continuing erosion of personal privacy, often by choice, on the Internet and due to security concerns. It is one that we need to watch and continue to write about.

[Q4]: What advice or words of encouragement would you give to up and coming scholars?

[A]:   Social impact issues related to computer technology and the Internet are very important and are now recognized as legitimate scholarly issues for computer scientists. It is now okay to focus your research on privacy or identity or virtual reality social impact issues.

[Q]: What are your current projects?

[A]:   I am currently an administrator, the Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies and Academic Affairs, at GWU, so unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time for research and writing. My doctoral students are focusing in the area of Internet security and Internet policy. I do teach an Information Policy Course at the graduate level and continue to teach the undergraduate course that deals with professional ethics.

[Q5]: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

[A]:   It is important that we spark the interest of undergraduate computer science students in the ethics and social impact issues early in their studies. My experience has shown that if they are exposed to these issues, they don’t forget them, and in fact, they start to see how they play out in the press on a weekly basis. It actually adds depth to their technical education and makes it more meaningful.