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The founder of this new philosophical field was the American scholar Norbert Wiener, a professor of mathematics and engineering at MIT. During the Second World War, together with colleagues in America and Great Britain, Wiener helped to develop electronic computers and other new and powerful information technologies.
Even while the War was raging, Wiener foresaw enormous social and ethical implications of cybernetics combined with electronic computers. When the War ended, Wiener wrote the book Cybernetics in which he described his new branch of applied science and identified some social and ethical implications of electronic computers.
Two years later he published The Human Use of Human Beingsa book in which he explored a number of ethical issues that computer and information technology would likely generate.
The issues that he identified in those two books, plus his later book God and Golem, Inc. See Bynum,a, b. These terms came into use decades later.
See the discussion below. His thinking, however, was far ahead of other scholars; and, at the time, many people considered him to be an eccentric scientist who was engaging in flights of fantasy about ethics. Apparently, no one — not even Wiener himself — recognized the profound importance of his ethics achievements; and nearly two decades would pass before some of the social and ethical impacts of information technology, which Wiener had predicted in the late s, would become obvious to other scholars and to the general public.
In The Human Use of Human Beings, Wiener explored some likely effects of information technology upon key human values like life, health, happiness, abilities, knowledge, freedom, security, and opportunities. The metaphysical ideas and analytical methods that he employed were so powerful and wide-ranging that they could be used effectively for identifying, analyzing and resolving social and ethical problems associated with all kinds of information technology, including, for example, computers and computer networks; radio, television and telephones; news media and journalism; even books and libraries.
In laying down a foundation for information ethics, Wiener developed a cybernetic view of human nature and society, which led him to an ethically suggestive account of the purpose of a human life.
These powerful ethical concepts enabled Wiener to analyze information ethics issues of all kinds. While explaining human intellectual potential, he regularly compared the human body to the physiology of less intelligent creatures like insects: Cybernetics takes the view that the structure of the machine or of the organism is an index of the performance that may be expected from it.
The fact that the mechanical rigidity of the insect is such as to limit its intelligence while the mechanical fluidity of the human being provides for his almost indefinite intellectual expansion is highly relevant to the point of view of this book.
The human species is strong only insofar as it takes advantage of the innate, adaptive, learning faculties that its physiological structure makes possible. Wiener concluded that the purpose of a human life is to flourish as the kind of information-processing organisms that humans naturally are: I wish to show that the human individual, capable of vast learning and study, which may occupy almost half of his life, is physically equipped, as the ant is not, for this capacity.
Everything in the world is a mixture of both of these, and thinking, according to Wiener, is actually a kind of information processing. Information is information, not matter or energy.
No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day. Living organisms, including human beings, are actually patterns of information that persist through an ongoing exchange of matter-energy. Thus, he says of human beings, We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water.
We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.
This is the purpose of a human life. It is possible, nevertheless, to lead a good human life — to flourish — in an indefinitely large number of ways; for example, as a diplomat, scientist, teacher, nurse, doctor, soldier, housewife, midwife, musician, tradesman, artisan, and so on.
Society, therefore, is essential to a good human life. For this reason, Wiener explicitly adopted a fourth principle of justice to assure that the first three would not be violated. Sometimes ethical relativists use the existence of different cultures as proof that there is not — and could not be — an underlying ethical foundation for societies all around the globe.
Those principles offer a cross-cultural foundation for ethics, even though they leave room for immense cultural diversity. The one restriction that Wiener would require in any society is that it must provide a context where humans can realize their full potential as sophisticated information-processing agents, making decisions and choices, and thereby taking responsibility for their own lives.
Wiener believed that this is possible only where significant freedom, equality and human compassion prevail. Instead, he plunged directly into his analyses. In any given society, there is a network of existing practices, laws, rules and principles that govern human behavior within that society.Given these numbers, it is clear that companies addressing ethical, social, and environmental responsibilities have growing access to capital that has not otherwise been available.
In the SHRM Foundation report, Olson describes an ethical workplace culture as one that gives priority to employee rights, fair procedures, and equity in pay and promotion, and that promotes. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations.
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