Computer ethics is distinguished from other ethics in the sense that it is mainly concerned with how computing professionals should make the right decisions regarding social and professional aspects and other computer related ethical issues. In fact, computer ethics requires one to cope with more than mere traditional ethical issues that are applied to computer technology. As Johnson (2009) asserts, computer related ethical issues arise from the different roles of the computer such as processors and repositories of information such as unauthorized access of information or stored files; procedures of new types of assets and forms such as computer programs; instruments of acts such as the degree in which computer users are responsible for the appropriateness and integrity of data and information; and symbols of deception and intimidation by perceiving computers as thinking machines. Basing on the above arguments, this paper will analyze whether the replacement of human labor with an automated production system is ethical or not.
We are introduced to a system analyst of a software development firm, who is mandated to develop a new computer system that would improve the organization’s production. However, this new computer application is designed to replace as many employees as possible in the production department. This is not a unique scenario because more and more workers are being replaced in many organizations as a result of technological advances. On the other hand, the system analyst finds himself in an ethical dilemma because his brother-in-law is one of the production employees to be replaced. After being informed of the impending consequences of introducing the automated system by his brother-in-law, the system analyst has to decide between developing the system or not. In sustaining the spirit and objective between his employer’s company and the clients, he continues with design by sticking to the stipulated requirements as diligently as possible.
This project is simple only if the human factors are not put into consideration. This is because the system analyst has the capability of developing as many applications as the company wants without any resistance from the affected employees. In this case, the system analyst has to deal with resistance from the employees that will be affected by the new system. It is apparent that the by designing more automated systems, more employees will be rendered jobless after they have been implemented. Considering that a family member to the system analyst will be affected, many people would consider this project unethical. There several questions arise from the above case, for instance; are there any ethical issues involved in this case; is the system analyst ethical or unethical in designing the system as required by his employer and; what are the general principles that apply in this case?
To answer the above questions, it is imperative to understand what is meant by automation, the main reason as to why the company wanted to automate its production process, the advantages and disadvantages of automation, and the positive and negative impacts of automation to the economy as well as to the society. Automation is defined as the utilization of information technologies and the associated control systems to reduce the organization’s reliance on human labor in the production of goods and services (Love, 2007). It is asserted that automation is a step beyond mechanization in the cooperate world. This can be attributed to the fact that while mechanization allows for the retention of employees with muscular requirements to operate machines, automation greatly reduces a company’s reliance on human mental and sensory requirements. This means that mechanization employee retention but automation leads to the cutting down of employees. The present-day corporate world has embraced various automations applications such as answering machines, video surveillance, automated manufacturing, and automated teller machines. Traditionally, organizations relied on human labor to complete the activities that are associated with the above technologies.
It goes without saying that many organizations are automating most of their processes because of the many advantages that come with automation. The main advantage of automation is that complex and monotonous activities or works, which were done in hazardous environments by human operators, can now be accomplished by automated systems. Rather than employing several people to complete a task that would otherwise be completed with one person, it is economical for a company to replace these workers (Love, 2007). Another significant advantage of automation is improved productivity within organizations and improved economic capabilities within societies. After many years of research, it has been established that automation not only stimulates economic growth, but also improves living standards world wide. Despite the fact that automation comes with numerous advantages, it also comes with some limitations. In reference to the case in discussion, it has been established that automation leads to job loss. Contrary t popular belief that automation leads to unemployment, it has been established that automation actually improves the quality of employment. For example, the introduction of automation has replaced menial and low paying jobs with higher paying and less menial jobs.
Having highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of automation, it becomes clear that the system analyst’s decision did not contravene any ethical principles. By upholding the spirit of the contract, which was to embrace automation when need arose, the system analyst made the perfect choice since it would suit both the employer and the customers. In reference to ACM code 2.4, it is clear that the system analyst acted ethically. This ACM code requires members to design and develop systems that not only performs their intended functions, but also satisfy their employer’s and customer’s needs. This is exactly what the system analyst did. Similarly, ACM number 1.3 compels members to act faithfully on behalf of their employees of clients. If the system analyst could have sympathized with his brother-in-law at the expense of his employer or client, that would have been a betrayal on his part. Based on the two ACM codes, it is apparent that the system analyst did everything responsibly and without contravening any ethical principles. It can be seen that his actions were meant for the well being of the company because automation would lead to high productivity and increased satisfaction for the customers. Additionally, it has been established that automated processes are cost effective the system analyst must have put this thought into consideration before designing the automated applications. Rather than wasting money by paying individuals who are performing repetitive chores and duties that do not need human supervision, the company would channel these funds to other activities that can improve productivity, hence improved profitability.
It can be seen that employees should be used to activities and duties that require skill and knowledge, rather than getting used to repetitive or simple tasks. Instead of being sent home, the employer would have considered retaining skilled and knowledgeable employees to operate these systems after being recommended by the system analyst. Therefore, rather than complaining about the looming displacement or replacement, the complaining employee should have taken the initiative of adding some skills and knowledge to secure his position at the company, rather than relying on his brother-in-law’s sympathies. Deploying the automated systems will enable employees to upgrade their skills and match the positions that need more brain values.
On his part, the system analyst’s brother-in-law was not unethical in bringing his and the predicaments of his fellow workers to the attention of the system analyst. Considering that the company would lay off some of its employees without assisting them in any way to find alternative jobs, this employee was right to complain. It seems like the company was unethical because it was depriving-off the retrenched employees their main source of livelihood. This can be attributed to the fact that the employer was contravening the general principal of social responsibility. It is asserted that a responsible employer should ensure that the impact caused to displaced or replaced employees is minimized when making any productivity improvements (Ryan 2009). By complaining, the system analyst’s brother-in-law was not only concerned with his welfare, but also for the welfare of fellow workers who would be affected.
In conclusion, there would have been an ethical breach if the system analyst headed to his brother-in-law’s asserting. In respect of the contract between the system analyst and his employer and the employer and its customers, the analyst did the right thing in upholding that contract. Ethically, it is wrong for a person to be guided by his or her personal relationships when making an important decision, especially if it goes against the customer’s wish. As discussed earlier, the general principle centers on the employer. When an organization rolls out a maser plan that is aimed at reducing the labor force through the introduction of an automated system, it must consider the social impacts that this decision might cause. It is the employer’s duty to find alternative positions for the affected employees. Alternatively, the company can provide adequate training for its employees so that they can handle complex jobs that may culminate from the deployment of automated systems.