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Published: 2021-08-13 19:05:08
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Early in the information technology revolution Richard Mason suggested that the coming changes in information technologies would necessitate rethinking the social contract (Mason 1986). What he could not have known then was how often we would have to update the social contract as these technologies rapidly change. Information technologies change quickly and move in and out of fashion at a bewildering pace. This makes it difficult to try to list them all and catalog the moral impacts of each.
The very fact that this change is so rapid and momentous has caused some to argue that we need to deeply question the ethics of the process of developing emerging technologies (Moor 2008). It has also been argued that the ever morphing nature of information technology is changing our ability to even fully understand moral values as they change. Lorenzo Magnani claims that acquiring knowledge of how that change confounds our ability to reason morally “…has become a duty in our technological world” (Magnani 2007, 93).
The legal theorist Larry Lessig warns that the pace of change in information technology is so rapid that it leaves the slow and deliberative process of law and political policy behind and in effect these technologies become lawless, or extralegal. This is due to the fact that by the time a law is written to curtail, for instance, some form of copyright infringement facilitated by a particular file sharing technology, that technology has become out of date and users are on to something else that facilitates copyright infringement (Lessig 1999).
The more specific term “computer ethics” has been used to refer to applications by professional philosophers of traditional Western theories like utilitarianism, Kantianism, or virtue ethics, to ethical cases that significantly involve computers and computer networks. “Computer ethics” also has been used to refer to a kind of professional ethics in which computer professionals apply codes of ethics and standards of good practice within their profession. In addition, other more specific names, like “cyber ethics” and “Internet ethics”, have been used to refer to aspects of computer ethics associated with the Internet.
During the past several decades, the robust and rapidly growing field of computer and information ethics has generated new university courses, research professorships, research centers, conferences, workshops, professional organizations, curriculum materials, books and journals. Much of the ethical debate about computers and information technology more generally has been informed by the ‘impact view’ of information technology. Within this tradition a number of issues have emerged as important.
For example, whether compute generate new types of ethical problems that require new or different ethical theories or, whether it is just more of the same (Gorniak 1996). These debates are often expressed  in the language of the impact of information technology on particular values and rights (Johnson 1985, 1994). Thus, we have discussions on the impact of CCTV or web cookies on, the right to privacy, the impact of the digital divide on the right to access information, the impact of the piracy of software on property rights, and so forth.
In these debates Jim Moor (1985) has argued that computers show up policy vacuums that require new thinking and the establishment of new policies. Others have argued that the resources provided by classical ethical theory such as utilitarianism, consequentialism and deontological ethics is more than enough to deal with all the ethical issues emerging from our design and use of information technology (Gert 1999).
Irrespective of whether information technology creates new types of ethical problems that require new ethical theory or whether established ethical theory is sufficient, one tends to find the debate centered on questions of policy that is intended to regulate or justify conduct. These policies are seen, and presented as ways to regulate or balance competing rights or competing values. For example, what sort of policies do we need to protect our children when they go on the internet? How would these policies affect the right to free speech?
Or, what sort of policies do we need to secure the rights of producers of digital products? How would these policies affect the right of society to a reasonable access to these products? Furthermore, these debates are most often directed at an institutional level of discourse i. e. , with the intention to justify the policies or conduct for governments, organizations and individuals. In these debates, on the impact of technology, ethics and ethicists are primarily conceived as presenting arguments for justifying a particular balance, of values or rights, over and against other possibilities.
Information technology is now ubiquitous in the lives of people across the globe. These technologies take many forms such as personal computers, smart phones, the internet, web and mobile phone applications, digital assistants, and cloud computing. In fact the list is growing constantly and new forms of these technologies are working their way into every aspect of daily life. In some cases, such as can be seen in massive multiplayer online games ,these technologies are even opening up new ways of interacting with each other.
Information technology at its basic level is technology that records, communicates, synthesizes or organizes information. The move from one set of dominant information technologies to another is always morally contentious. Socrates lived during the long transition from a largely oral tradition to a newer information technology consisting of writing down words and information and collecting those writings into scrolls and books.
Famously Socrates was somewhat antagonistic to writing and he never wrote anything down himself. Socrates, who was adept at quoting lines from poems and epics and placing them into his conversations, fears that those who rely on writing will never be able to truly understand and live by these words. For Socrates there is something immoral or false about writing. Books can provide information but they cannot, by themselves, give you the wisdom you need to use or deeply understand that information.
For Socrates, reading a book is nowhere near as insightful as talking with its author. His criticism of writing at first glance may seem humorous but the temptation to use recall and call it memory is getting more and more prevalent in modern information technologies. Why learn anything when information is just an Internet search away? In order to avoid Socrates’ worry, information technologies should do more than just provide access to information; they should also help foster wisdom and understanding as well.
Social networking is a term given to sites and applications that facilitate online social interactions that typically focus on sharing information with other users referred to as “friends. ” The most famous of these sites today is Facebook. There are a number of moral values that these sites call into question. Shannon Vallor (2011) has reflected on how sites like Facebook change or even challenge our notion of friendship. Her analysis is based on the Aristotelian theory of friendship . Aristotle argued that humans realize a good and true life though virtuous friendships.
Valor notes that four key dimensions of Aristotle’s ‘virtuous friendship,’ namely: reciprocity, empathy, self-knowledge and the shared life, are found in online social media in ways that can actually strengthen friendship (Vallor 2011). Yet she argues that social media is not up to the task of facilitating what Aristotle calls ‘the shared life,’ and thus these media cannot fully support the Aristotelian notion of complete and virtuous friendship by themselves (Vallor 2011). Vallor also has a similar analysis of other Aristotelian virtues such as patience, honesty and empathy as they are fostered in online media (Vallor 2010).
Johnny Hartz Soraker (2012) argues for a nuanced understanding of online friendship rather than a rush to normative judgement on the virtues of virtual friends. The first moral impact one encounters when contemplating online games is the tendency for these games to portray violence. There are many news stories that claim a cause and effect relationship between violence in computer games and real violence. The claim that violence in video games has a causal connection to actual violence has been strongly critiqued by the social scientist Christopher J. Ferguson (Ferguson 2007).
However, Mark Coeckelbergh argues that since this relationship is tenuous at best and that the real issue at hand is the effect these games have on one’s moral character (Coeckelbergh 2007). But Coeckelbergh goes on to claim that computer games can be designed to facilitate virtues like empathetic and cosmopolitan moral development so he is not arguing against all games just those where the violence inhibits moral growth (Coeckelbergh 2007). Marcus Schulzke (2010) holds a different opinion, suggesting that the violence in computer games is morally defensible.
Schulzke’s main claim is that actions in a virtual world are very different from actions in the real world, though a player may “kill” another player in a virtual world, that player is instantly back in the game and the two will almost certainly remain friends in the real world thus virtual violence is very different from real violence, a distinction gamers are comfortable with (Schulzke 2010). While virtual violence may seem palatable to some, Morgan Luck (2009) seeks a moral theory that might be able to allow the acceptance of virtual murder but that will not extend to other immoral acts such as pedophilia.
Christopher Bartel (2011) is less worried about the distinction Luck attempts to draw; Bartel argues that virtual pedophilia is real child pornography, which is already morally reprehensible and illegal across the globe. Malware and computer virus threats are growing at an astonishing rate. Security industry professionals report that while certain types of malware attacks such as spam are falling out of fashion, newer types of attacks focused on mobile computing devices and the hacking of cloud computing infrastructure are on the rise utstripping any small relief seen in the slowing down of older forms of attack (Cisco Systems 2011; Kaspersky Lab 2011). What is clear is that this type of activity will be with us for the foreseeable future. In addition to the largely criminal activity of malware production, we must also consider the related but more morally ambiguous activities of hacking, hacktivism, commercial spyware, and informational warfare. Each of these topics has its own suite of subtle moral ambiguities. We will now explore some of them here.
While there may be wide agreement that the conscious spreading of malware is of questionable morality there is an interesting question as to the morality of malware protection and anti-virus software. With the rise in malicious software there has been a corresponding growth in the security industry which is now a multi-billion dollar market. Even with all the money spent on security software there seems to be no slowdown in virus production, in fact quite the opposite has occurred. This raises an interesting business ethics concern, what value are customers receiving for their money from the security industry?
The massive proliferation of malware has been shown to be largely beyond the ability of anti-virus software to completely mitigate. There is an important lag in the time between when a new piece of malware is detected by the security community and the eventual release of the security patch and malware removal tools There are a number of computers based ethical dilemma that are frequently discussed. One set of issues deals with some of the new ethical dilemma that have emerged, or taken on new form, with the rise of the Internet and Social Networking.
There are now many ways to gain information about others that were not available, or easily available, before the rise of computers. Thus ethical issues about storage of personal information are now becoming an ever increasing problem. With more storage of personal data for social networking arises the problem of selling that information for monetary gain. This gives rise to different ethical situations regarding access, security, and the use of hacking in positive and negative situations.

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