A question of morals

I’m getting close to solving the last few hurdles of some tech that I have been working on for a long time. I believe that if I’m successful it could be a really big deal. The problem is that while on one hand it could be a good thing for a lot of people, on the other hand it could be used by people to do things that are not so good. I don’t want to go into specifics here, but I would like to hear the community’s thought on how you approach such a problem. Is it right to hold back technology simply because some people may misuse it? If you release it knowing it can be misused, do you hold some of the blame for what those people do?

I wonder if weapons manufacturers struggle with this? Doesn’t seem to stop them from producing guns, though.

How about drug makers?

If you’re concerned about liability, I would consult a lawyer.

I get what your saying, but “other people do it” is never a good reason to do anything. I’m more interested in where that morality lies. What responsibility does a creator have once a tool has been given over to the general public?
Legal liability is not something I’m concerned with at this time. What I’m making is a tool, and I don’t think there is any potential for it.

Do you think the scientists that took part in the Manhattan project should have been charged with genocide?

Yeah, maybe. After all they were designing a bomb and they had to know that sooner or later it would be used to kill a lot of people. Although genocide, may be xtreme, in my mind they do hold some of the blame. That being said, it’s not a very good comparison to what I’m doing :slight_smile:
‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’.

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Well if you take that approach I guess :wink: My belief has always been that the science and development of tools is neither good or bad. It is what people choose to do with them that decides whether that person is good or bad. But you gotta deal with your own outlook I’m afraid :smile:


Most things have the potential to be used for both good and bad. Medicines that save lives have also been used as murderous poisons in high enough doses. Who is morally responsible for those murders? The scientist who developed the drug?

This misses the point and, frankly, this attitude scares me. Legal liability is not a valid proxy for ethical responsibility.

@Josh5231 this article is a good read and relevant to your question: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2018/01/12/birdcage-liners/

As software developers and designers, we have a responsibility to the world to think these things through carefully and design software that makes the world better, or, at least, no worse than it started out. And when our inventions spin out of control, we have a responsibility to understand why and to try to fix them.

With that said, only you (and anyone else you’ve explained your idea to) can really weigh up the potential benefits and drawbacks to your idea. It’s possible you’re simply overthinking a problem that’s minor or nonexistent. But it’s good that you’re at least considering this angle.

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The OP asked:

I would like to hear the community’s thought on how you approach such a problem.

I answered with, “I would consult a lawyer.”

Ethics is a branch of philosophy and is therefore a massive grey area. The law is written down, voted on and established based on precedent and as such trumps public opinion and “feelings” every time.

Two things about your post concern me very much.

  1. Somebody suggesting that a person takes steps to protect their professional reputation and guard themselves against liability and potential financial ruin is something you see as a “scary attitude”.
  2. As a moderator in this forum, by very definition, you should be “a moderate” and “moderate” discussions. Expressing a strong and dangerous opinion speaking against seeking legal advice is both contradictory to your accepted responsibilities as a moderator and dangerous to the community.

I agree wholeheartedly that we should always ask ourselves, “are we doing the right thing?” But “the right thing” is just an opinion. It may be my opinion or yours or “public opinion” but it’s still an opinion and it’s not going to protect me against civil and criminal liability and “I did the right thing, I think” will be small comfort when my company gets shut down and I lose my home.

Given that the thread is explicitly titled “a question of morals”, it’s pretty clear what the OP is asking about. I’m not saying that consulting a lawyer is bad advice. However, in the context of your whole post, it suggests a laissez-faire attitude to business ethics. Perhaps I misread your intentions, in which case I apologize.

My moderator status is simply a function I fulfil here (without any form of compensation) due to having been deemed a helpful member of the community. That function is essentially administrative — deleting obvious spam, cleaning up malformatted posts, etc. It in no way suggests that my opinions are representative of fCC as an organization, nor does it suggest that those opinions should be given more weight than those of other community members. The flipside of that is that I’m still allowed to have opinions — otherwise I’d be in trouble as soon as I expressed a preference for one JavaScript framework over another.

Again, though, I’m sorry if I misunderstood what you were saying.