How Sci Fi teaches IT Ethics

Science fiction is a genre that most IT professionals know, and we consider it mostly to be about good guys and bad guys. Things are very black and white. And technology is always in the right. Well, with the notable exceptions when it goes very wrong (HAL, Skynet, …).  Our famous local science fiction writer in Regina is Edward Willet. He gave me another way to think about science fiction characters.

Ed was speaking at a CIPS conference several years ago. The way I remember it, he explained how he came up with creative ideas for his books. He might think about a new technology and who might come up with a unique or good use for the technology and that is his hero. And then he thinks about who would oppose this and why. That person becomes the antagonist and creates the tension that keeps the novel moving and interesting. His point was that this antagonist always has a good reason for the opposition. This makes them a “real” person and whole thing becomes believable. There is always a “flip side” and there is always an adversary for the hero.

So what do we in IT learn from this? I’m hoping we can all learn that there will always be someone with a valid argument against our technology. In our case, they really are real and, as with Ed’s characters, their concerns are for a good reason. So good ethics say that we need to treat them with respect and work to address their concerns.

Too often we get involved in our project and view anyone that objects to our plans as an obstacle or a “risk to the project”. This is when we tend to snap into Sci Fi mode and treat those people like the “bad guys” or “black hats” or much worse terms. This is not the part of Sci Fi we want to learn from. The CIPS code of ethics repeats several times that IT professionals:

  • must participate and act with integrity in a manner that upholds the reputation and good standing of CIPS, and the IT profession in general, in relationships with anyone with whom they work;

  • must exemplify the values of equality, tolerance, and respect for others.

  • must not discriminate in any manner based on grounds such as race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, social origin, family status, or disability.

The latter tends to be brought up as a way to say cruel things about “the opposition”. But our work is NOT fiction. Our work is to reduce the tension on a project. Create teamwork, not tension. Remember, even Sci Fi villains have reasons behind what they are doing. Step out of Sci Fi mode and take the time to understand and respect the folks you work with.

If you need science fiction, Ed Willet has just published a couple of new books that sound very good.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskog is an Information Systems Professional (retired) and has her Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Regina. She has worked in the IT industry since 1978. Most of those years were at SaskTel where she progressed from Programmer, to Business Analyst, to Manager. At one point she had over 48 IT positions reporting to her and she has experience outside of IT managing Engineers. As a Relationship Manager, Donna worked with executive to define the IT Principles so departmental roles were defined. As the Resource Manager in the Corporate Program/Project Management Office, she introduced processes to get resources for corporate priorities. In 2003 she was given the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Technology.

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