The Ethical Software Architect

By Eltjo Poort

Talk Abstract

As software becomes ubiquitous, so does the impact of architectural decisions, possibly with ethical aspects. In this session, we will discuss tools to navigate moral dilemmas, explore ethical scenarios that any software architect can run into, and try to improve ourselves as ethical architects.

Talk Description

As the conviction of Volkswagen engineer James Liang has shown, software architecture can have far-reaching legal and ethical consequences. And although few architects will ever be involved in ethical dilemmas of the magnitude Mr. Liang had to deal with, most of us will at some time or other be involved in architectural choices with ethical impact. As software becomes ubiquitous, its impact on privacy, transparency, equality or general happiness and well-being of people is felt by everyone.

In this interactive tutorial, we will first explain why architects should care about ethics, and then hand them some tools to help navigate the quagmire of ethical dilemmas. Together, we will explore some stories - scenarios that any software architect can run into in their daily work. At the end of the workshop, we will discuss ways in which we can all become more ethical software architects.



Introduction (20 minutes)

  • why architects should care about ethical impact.
  • examples of ethical impact of architectural decisions.
  • ethics reasoning tools: dialectics, normative ethics, utilitarian trade-off.

Group discussions (50 minutes)

  • scenario introductions (10 minutes)

    current ideas (to be detailed): being asked to design systems that a) make it harder for citizens (e.g. the digitally challenged) to appeal government decisions, b) support “black box” decision making based on personal data, c) generate more business at the expense of privacy or user friendliness, d) discriminate against certain populations by design, e) determine a user’s location based on other data when they refuse permission to use GPS data, or f)….

  • break-out group discussions (25 minutes).
  • plenary feed-back (15 minutes).

Wrap-up (20 minutes)

  • ethical practices for architects (e.g. “trickle-up” of ethical design).
  • conclusions.