2010 5/6

I have become a computer science graduate student for nearly a year, and I read quite a lot of papers in recent 9 months. Most of them are system, network, architecture, security related. It appears to me that most (modern) papers would like to present two things (only): first, something is possible; second, we really should do it. Though most papers will reveal it in a reversed order. They will first make you feel that you really want it, and then show you that you can have it easily with our simple and beautiful recipe…

To me, sometimes, these two points seems to be separate issues. One is showing proof of expanding our ability, and another is arguing about justice. One is about engineering science and methodology and another is about social science and philosophy. In computer science papers, they usually mix these two things together, while I think it is not that appropriate. Plus, every so often, geeky computer scientists are (or at least were) really and only good at hacking things in cyber space but are not trained to or experienced on making arguments about justice. This makes many papers really cool on their methodology but questionable on their motivation.

Why can’t computer scientists just focus on expanding our ability without mentioning their motivation? I think that is because research is not free and it needs a purpose.

Research is not free; this is quite obvious. Researchers are paid to research and they devote their time, energy and enthusiasm on discovering new things. Living a life needs a reason, even if it actually might be just an excuse. Furthermore, it is questionably morally acceptable if you do research without reasoning good. Is learning, designing, experimenting nuclear weapons morally justice? Probably not, even they do not meant to kill anyone. Why is it wrong even if you are not doing anything really bad, without a bad purpose? Because human-beings are weak, and it is so dangerous that you give them something that they can do something bad so easily. Even when hey are kind and good people, they can make mistakes. Just like the implementation of Microsoft Windows becomes its specification, human capability may become their purpose. Purpose can not be ignored.

All these sort of philosophy arguments have been actually under discussion for a long time among philosophers, and there is no single simple judgements we can make; we have to focus on new particular cases and discuss them again and again with considerations of multiple aspects. Justice has always been being a hard question, much much harder than hacking a PC upside down, I think.

Techie computer scientist, nowadays, should be at least more upfront with their ignorance on what the future cyber world should be, when they are showing what it could be.

It is increasingly required that compter scientists really need to learn more about philosophical arguments about justice. They invent new technologies and new technologies become deployed within several years, without a public and deep discussion on whether it is right or not. This is so dangerous, especially when more and more human spiritual and cultural heritage are abstracted into cyberspace, which is already in great progress (just look at Google), and this progress is really largely driven by profit without “a public consistent agreement among rational adults”. We have to do it right before it is too late; we, this generation of computer scientists, engineers, salesmen and users, have the responsibility.