Outstanding Service Award (2006) — Keith Miller (Interview)

Earlier this spring, I conducted a “virtual interview” with my friend and colleague Keith Miller. We passed the writing token (as Keith calls the passing of drafts back and forth between writers) a couple of times and our conversation went something like this:

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

[A]:   My technical specialty is software testing. As I worked on problems in that field, I kept bumping up to questions that my reliability statistical formulae couldn’t answer. The prime example of such a question was “How good is good enough?” My wife’s Ph.D. is in bio-ethics, and I come from a religious family, so it was natural for me to look to ethics for some answers. Soon, I heard about Deborah Johnson’s book. I contacted her, and became a “disciple” of hers. Many, many people in philosophy, computing, law, and psychology have been helping me ever since including Don Gotterbarn, Jim Moor, Fran Grodzinsky, Marty Wolf, Cem Kaner, Simon Rogerson, Terry Bynum, Flo Appel, Laurie King, Tracy Camp, Chuck Huff, and so many more.

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

[A]:   I think that “How Good is Good Enough?” is still an open and important question, but I am sure that others would see that as a less pressing issue. The ethical status of increasingly autonomous and “intelligent” programs and robots is a central issue, and it is certainly getting lots of press. Inherent in that issue is a challenge to the special status of humans as the most important information processing species. I think privacy is a pressing problem, although younger people seem less concerned about that than us oldsters.

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

[Q]:    Specifically for SIGCAS, where do you see the SIG in the next 10 years?

[A]:    I would like to see rank and file computing professionals (both in the ACM and the IEEE, as well as practitioners who don’t belong to either of those professional organizations) become more actively engaged in debates about these issues. I would like to see SIGCAS leading the charge in encouraging that kind of participation. In 10 years, wouldn’t it be great if SIGCAS were the most popular “second choice” among all ACM SIGs? I think that is a worthy goal.

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

[A]:   I would give them the same advice I give my computer science students: as much as possible, be interdisciplinary; plant your feet firmly in TWO technical areas. For me the two areas are software testing and computer ethics. For someone else it might be professional ethics and databases. Take care not to become diluted, but instead try to exploit the strengths of each discipline in understanding the other discipline. There are many emerging new issues, and plenty of old issues that remain open; this is frightening for society, but wonderful for an up and coming scholar.

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

[A]:    I hope the readers involved in SIGCAS and in “computers and society” issues in general realize how lucky we are. The people I have met in SIGCAS, in IEEE SSIT, in INSEIT and in this field generally tend to be generous, gracious, and smart. More than software testing and more than computer science education (two fields where I also have contacts), people have been supportive and helpful to me in computer ethics. It makes me happy to work among and with these lively, charming people. [including you, Kat!]