Saturday 9 a.m.–10:10 a.m.

Ethics in the early days: politics and the computing profession

Janet Toland

Audience level:


This presentation will consider how early computer professionals viewed their social responsibilities to the wider world, and how their decisions have influenced todays profession.


The first professional society for computer scientists. the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was founded in 1947. ACM’s founder, Edmund Berkeley, was a gifted mathematician and also a deeply moral person who felt it was the duty of computer professionals to ensure that this new technology was used only for social good. Some ACM members agreed with him, others most emphatically did not, taking the view that technology was morally neutral, and political debates should be kept outside the workplace. During the 1960s and 1970s these two opposing camps went through a series of heated debates about the issues of the day such as the use of computers in nuclear weapons, the human rights of Soviet computer scientists, privacy concerns and the equal rights of women.