When Formal Systems Kill

What happens when a philosophy professor (with a M.S. in Computer Science) and a formal methods engineer (like me) collaborate?  The outcome in my case is a paper entitled, “When Formal Systems Kill: Computer Ethics and Formal Methods” (pdf). In the paper, we give an ethical treatment of the use of formal methods. Our goal in the paper is not so much to make definitive claims on the subject but to raise awareness of the issue for further philosophical treatment. The subject has been neglected by ethics philosophers.

Darren (my coauthor) and I had a hard time deciding where to try to publish this. We ended up submitting it to the American Philosophical Association’s (APA) newsletter on Philosophy and Computers, where it was accepted for the Fall 2011 edition. (The APA is the “ACM of Philosophy” within the United States.)

The paper was a number of years in the making, being a side-project for me. I can’t say I agree with everything we wrote, but I hope it serves as a useful starting point for the dialogue between ethics and formal methods.

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3 Responses to “When Formal Systems Kill”

  1. Tycho Says:

    Thank you for writing this. I have tried to make the ethical implications a subject of discussion among my peers for a long time; luckily there are some people who think about this as well.

  2. Darren Cofer Says:

    Enjoyed the paper. It reminds me of Michael Holloway’s (fictional) ISSC paper, “Issues in Software System Safety: Polly Ann Smith Co. versus Ned I. Ludd.”

  3. When Formal Systems Kill « Critical Uncertainties Says:

    […] When Formal Systems Kill, an interesting paper by Lee Pike and Darren Abramson looking at the automatic formal system property of computers from an ethical perspective. Of course as we all know, the 9000 series has a perfect operational record… […]

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