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Software Engineers: Good or Evil ?

I believe that software is unique as a technology in that it has created more good than harm - so far - in terms of saving lives, improved quality of life, choice, freedom and so on.  I know of no other technology which has the same record. You may disagree . . .

Ian Sanders
Friday, December 12, 2003

While I would love to agree, we need some perspective:

- Water Treatment. 
- Medical science (i.e. 1818 29% of woman who delivered by doctors died shortly after birth.  Having doctors wash their hands before delivering babies reduced it 3%.) http://www.cc.nih.gov/hes/semmelweis.html
- Pharmacology - Vaccines, antibiotics and medicines extend the life of Americans from ~45 to 72 in less than 50 years.  It is expect to be over 100 in the next 15 and over 140 in the next 50 years.

While we may have an impact on lives, and equipment such as CATs and MRIs use this technology, from a global "had the greatest impact" we are far behind.

MSHack
Friday, December 12, 2003

I've often thought of this over the years. Although I have no "real" data to back it up, I've a strong hunch that it works out to a zero-sum game. A net zero. The improvements brought about by computers, data processing systems, are probably (a guess) completely offset by the costs -- software, licensing, hardware, maintenance personnel, developers, testers, admins, cable, routers, bandwidth, training, etc.

That being said, I think the *efficiencies* we've gained are significant. It certainly makes a lot of stuff much faster than the old manual processes, but when factoring in the above costs, I still don't think it's made things any cheaper, in the aggregate.

Just my opinion. I've no data to back it up.

Sgt. Sausage
Friday, December 12, 2003

Yep, we do disagree.

Remember the argument that IBM was partly responsible for the Holocaust because if it hadn't been for its office machines the Final Solution would have suffered from greater logistical problems?

Have you thought how much easier it is now for an evil dictatorship to gain control over all aspects of our lives? Big Brother is empowered due to software.

And think of the jobs that software has taken away, as well as the increasing gap between rich and poor countries, and rich and poor within countries, that you could argue is a direct or indirect effect.

Software is like most inventions - it's ethically neutral, like the spinning wheel, the steam engine or dynamite.

I remember hearing somebody state a long time ago that the only two inventions of the twentieth century that had no harmful side effects were the bicycle and the electric light bulb. Standing on a mountain in Jordan, and seeing the stars for only the second time in my life, I realized he was wrong about the electric light bulb. I am sure somebody here can debunk the bicycle.

Stephen Jones
Friday, December 12, 2003

I would like to defent the position of the bicycle.  It is a force only for good.

There are plenty of motorists in London who can easily rant for hours about the evils of the cyclist, but the real problem is with their cars.

Ged Byrne
Friday, December 12, 2003

A bicycle is most certainly not a force for good if you're walking on the pavement and get hit by one!

John Topley (www.johntopley.com)
Friday, December 12, 2003

My only gripe against bikes in town is that some cyclists don't realise that red lights apply to them.  Bloody unnerving when you're trying to cross the road.

BTW I know people cross against the lights - they  pee me off as well.

A cynic writes
Friday, December 12, 2003

cynic, you wouldn't do so well in NYC.

I don't know that software can yet compare to the advances in medical science over the past few hundred years. Though advances in the latter half of this century and into the future (think of the human genome project) will be thanks in large part to software.

I still think the greatest tools are the simplest. Housing is pretty amazing, and so is farming, and farming is responsible for civilization as we know it - without farming we're nomads, and who has time to develop a phonetic written language when you're chasing animals. It's the leisure class that was created through slavery/exploitation/farming that IMHO is responsible for the past few thousand years of human history.

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, December 12, 2003

..mmm probably not Mark. 

Chances are I'd turn into a grumpy gnome lookalike, with high blood pressure and a tendency to swear under my breath in strongly accented English. 

No change there then.

A cynic writes
Friday, December 12, 2003

[ I know of no other technology which has the same record.]

Oh, come on. Given the right definition of "good" I could probably argue that nuclear weapons have done more good than harm.

anon
Friday, December 12, 2003

Damn right! Nuclear weapons are the most powerful force for peace in world today. Do you really think the Cold War would have stayed 'cold' without all those nukes pointing at each other?

And Bicycles are evil...

Mr Jack
Friday, December 12, 2003

Professor:
- We don't only teach computer science in this college. We also save lives !!!

Student:
- Why ?

Professor:
- Because idiots like you could want to learn medicine.

.
Friday, December 12, 2003

Nukes are a net positive ? On behalf of our descendants in 10,000 years who are still cleaning up the mess, I respectfully disagree. Besides, nukes have already directly killed 200,000 people plus cancer victims.

Someone may unleash a computer virus one day with really malicious intent and kill a few people, but there is a lot of history left in the world for someone to unleash a nuke with malicious intent. It'll only take one...

Ian Sanders
Friday, December 12, 2003

We need some perspective on the perspective. Medical advances 150 years ago helped a smaller population. Software is inflating that improvement to a much bigger population.

Farming killed the forests of Europe and I'm a treehugger, so I'll claim victory over that argument on a technicality.

Ian Sanders
Friday, December 12, 2003

Ian - how is it that medicine helped a smaller population?  We are all here to some extent because of medical advances.  Small pox,  polio, german measles, surgery.  All helping the global population. 

While you  may argue that  software contacts more lives more regularly, it does not make it better.  Using that approach, shoes would be the best advancement,  as more people wear them, for longer periods of time, every day.  Heck, half the  world lives in  areas where phones are rare, let alone software.

MSHack
Friday, December 12, 2003

[Nukes are a net positive ? On behalf of our descendants in 10,000 years who are still cleaning up the mess, I respectfully disagree. Besides, nukes have already directly killed 200,000 people plus cancer victims.]

How many people would have died in a World War 3, given that at least 20 million died in the U.S.S.R alone?

Did the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction have anything to do with the fact that WWIII was not fought?

Nukes have potentially saved a number of lives at least one, possibly two or three orders of magnitude greater than the 200,000 you referenced.

On the other hand, one rather large environmental problem right now is used computer equipment.

Just an argument.

anon
Friday, December 12, 2003

Without computers most of the advances in other fields wouldn't be possible.  I have a friend that does research for a biotech company.  She spends more time in front of the computer than I do.

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Friday, December 12, 2003

Stephen:
"Have you thought how much easier it is now for an evil dictatorship to gain control over all aspects of our lives? Big Brother is empowered due to software."

I think Khan, Stalin, Hitler, et al managed to subjugate their people very well without computers or information networks.

I'll also note that quite a bit of repressive legislation has been halted or repealed due to public outcry, generally stemming from internet revelations.

For the time being, I believe that software/networks do more for liberty than for "the forces of evil"

Philo

Philo
Sunday, December 14, 2003

---" I'll also note that quite a bit of repressive legislation has been halted or repealed due to public outcry, generally stemming from internet revelations. "---

But there has been a hell of a lot more repressive legislation passed in the US and UK since the advent of the Internet than before.

I honestly see the libertarian idea of the internet as being a hangover from the mid to late nineties.  The later pattern of lawsuits, repression and general cowardice is much more a taste of things to come than that shortlived period of idealism.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, December 14, 2003

I have to agree with Philo.  Having a well-informed population is key to sustaining a free society.  That is why dictatorships like China expend so much energy trying to restrict their citizens' use of the Internet.

T. Norman
Sunday, December 14, 2003

---" I'll also note that quite a bit of repressive legislation has been halted or repealed due to public outcry, generally stemming from internet revelations. "---

But there has been a hell of a lot more repressive legislation passed in the US and UK since the advent of the Internet than before.

***************************

Think very, very carefully about your rebuttal, and why it fails logically.

I'll be back tomorrow.

Philo

Philo
Sunday, December 14, 2003

[How many people would have died in a World War 3, given that at least 20 million died in the U.S.S.R alone?

Did the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction have anything to do with the fact that WWIII was not fought?]

No. The concept of MAD had nothing to do with WWIII never being fought. WWIII *was* fought all over the developing world by proxy.

Nukes were invented, that's bad. You can't sugar the pill by saying 'well we had them, and that stopped us using them' is a simplistic argument. As everyone knows, detente requires balance and no one can keep their balance forever.

Ian Sanders
Monday, December 15, 2003

Well I'm evil. And loving it.


Tuesday, December 16, 2003

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