Making A Difference Award (2005) — Simon Rogerson (interview)

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

[A]:   Having spent many years in industry working on systems development in a variety of programming, analysis and project management roles I had my usual set of battle scars and medals borne out of trying to get systems to work and produce useful output for client departments. When I changed careers I was first employed as a senior lecturer and my role was to instill a sense of IT reality in final year Computer Science undergraduates and Masters level postgraduates. The problem of addressing system success and failure was high on my agenda as I had experienced little of the former and a lot of the latter in my time in industry, which was a typical profile for any IT professional at the time. By the early 1990s I became convinced that the problem was that IT people were looking at system development with a very narrow perspective. What was needed was a much broader scope. It was then I discovered some of the work being done in computer ethics. Like many of us working in this field it was Deborah Johnson’s writings that I first discovered and started to use. I found it fascinating that here was I very much a practical IT professional looking outwards for solutions and that there were several academics, primarily from philosophy, looking inwards to try to explain the phenomena they observed. I was hooked!

[Q2]: In your opinion, what is/are the most pressing issues in our field today?  Why?

[A]:   Converging technologies continue to change the world we live and work in. The impact across the world grows but still only around 20% of the global population use information and communication technology (ICT). The disparity of opportunity to benefit from ICT between poor and rich, under-developed and developed, and rural and urban remains and in some cases has increased. Associated with this are the power structures that have been created with advancing ICT. Those who own and/or control ICT infrastructure, media outlets and application systems wield much power in the modern world. It is they who decide whether ICT is good for us, what are the ICT priorities and when it is time to cease non-ICT products and services. For these reasons we need to assess new technological advances, for example cloud computing, implants and non human agents, as well as existing ICT usage. We need to ensure those working in ICT understand and accept all their professional obligations and responsibilities and provide them with the instruments to do so. Our work in the field must be accessible to policy makers, industry, educators and the public for it is too important to remain in the dusty corridors of academia.

[Q3]: Where do you see the field in the future?

[A]:   We must never forget that ICT is a practical domain and whilst it is important to address issues with rigor we must never see it as simply a vehicle for exercising and exhibiting our intellectual cleverness. I remain convinced that whilst exploration of the conceptual foundations are essential this must always be done with the understanding that it will help to ensure that the development and use of advancing information and communication technologies benefits us all and does no harm. There continues to be differing opinions about the nature of the field on a continuum from a philosophical-only position to a wide interdisciplinary position. For me the issue is quite simple – we live in an interdisciplinary world, we use resources in an interdisciplinary way and we face issues, challenges and problems that require us to draw upon our interdisciplinary skills and experiences. ICT is just part of our world and as such demands to be treated in an interdisciplinary way. So the field must be interdisciplinary – it is this that has coloured the way in which we have operated the ETHICOMP conference series since 1995. Through ETHICOMP new interdisciplinary partnerships have evolved. In Europe, research funding has recognized the need for interdisciplinarity and practicality. More emphasis is being placed on funding ethics-oriented ICT projects but only when the approach is interdisciplinary and applied.

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

[A]:   For the foreseeable future ICT will remain at the forefront of human advances. Its pervasiveness is breathtaking. It is an amazingly stimulating and challenging area to work. It is particularly so for those of us focusing on the ethical and social impact of ICT. It requires us to be open-minded in our pursuit of answers drawing upon any existing relevant knowledge regardless of source. One of the greatest joys for me has been the engagement with scholars from many different disciplines, countries and cultures who have come together in a supportive way with one simple goal to make ICT better. We need young scholars to take up the mantle of pioneers in the field and take us forward. Whichever discipline you come from there is a place in this field for you if you are willing to adapt and to work in partnership with those from other disciplines. Our community encourages young scholars to engage and lead – it is really true that if you are good enough you are old enough.

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

[A]:   I have just come back from delivering the Social Impact of Computing Summer School for masters computing students at Gdansk University of Technology in Poland. All these students worked fulltime in the industry. This is the first time they had been exposed to the broader issues surrounding ICT. At the end of the course I asked them what they had learnt and would take back to their work. Many of them told me that they had never thought about how what they did in ICT might harm people or the environment but from now on they would. For me this is why our field is important, this is why we must engage in the delivery of education, this is why we must continue to lobby and this is why we need new scholars to join the field.