9.7 Solving the Problem

It will never be possible to settle all legal problems; there will always be those who ignore the most widely accepted standards of behaviour. If the real problem is with the ethical base on which law rests, and not with law itself, then any solution must address itself to ethics and to education.

If men and women of the information age are to believe in the rights of others, including, say, property rights, those beliefs will not come about by accident. If their hallmark is economic pragmatism and self-fulfilment, it is in their best interest to develop property rights, for the promise of the information age cannot be fulfilled if production of new intellectual properties is discouraged, or if the state and the law either grow burdensomely large or become impotent. Can citizens be so educated, and will teachers want to do this? This question may now be unanswerable in the broadest sense, but it is possible to see how partial solutions could be worked out in the computer industry, and this approach might be useful in other sectors as well.

This solution could involve data processing and programming personnel, particularly those with managerial and teaching responsibilities, banding together in a professional guild with a high-profile code of ethics. They would commit themselves to teach, promote, and enforce that code for themselves, for their employees, and for their students.

For at least pragmatic and economic reasons, members could give a specific written commitment to:

1) Respect the copyright of other programmers and neither sell nor give away copies of others' work.

2) Respect the privacy of data and agree never to use their skills to enter into, examine, or change the contents of someone else's system.

3) Provide to clients and customers only structured, thoroughly tested and debugged, properly documented and fairly priced products and stand behind those products with a guarantee that errors and deficiencies will be fixed.

4) Advertise only finished products and make no exaggerated price, performance, or delivery claims.

A rigidly enforced discipline could make violators unemployable, depriving them of the skills and means to continue their activities. Cross representation with governing bodies of other professions could raise the profile of these guilds and increase likelihood of success. Strict enforcement and heavy promotion in educational institutions could eventually reduce the number of thieves and vandals. Similar codes of ethics could be devised by those doing work in Artificial Intelligence, genetic research, or robotics.

Codes of ethics for professionals are nothing new. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and teachers have had them for some time. There are already associations of data processing professionals that have promulgated codes as well, but membership in such associations is voluntary and a large percentage of those working in the field belong to no such group. If the projections of this book are correct, there will be a considerable professionalizing of all work in the fourth civilization, and this implies creation of new organizations for information workers to provide performance guarantees and stability. The result would be that most workers would belong to a professional organization, and that such groups, or guilds, would have detailed and enforceable codes of ethics, so performance expectations of their members would be clear.

These guilds would be a temporary measure, of course. Even a new cooperative professionalism would not last indefinitely, and their inevitable decline would eventually render such structures ineffective--the fate of all human institutions. By that time, society might be ready for a new try at making modified forms of government work. It might even discover that moral absolutes have been there all along and are a more enduring foundation for the notion of ethical behaviour and the rule of law.

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises