Experts are calling for Chinese universities to teach computer ethics to their students.
China faces a rapid growth in computer ethics issues which should be addressed through education, according to Professor Simon Rogerson, of De Montfort University Leicester, and Professor Terry Bynum, of Southern Connecticut State University in the USA.
The two are leading experts in the social and ethical effects of computing and have authored a paper which focuses on ethical challenges in China's booming technological sector but also considers more spiritual views of the subject, including that of a Buddhist master.
In the paper, entitled Technological growth in China: a discussion of some ethical challenges, they highlight a number of examples illustrating the different types of issues currently being reported in the Chinese press. These include the publication of a 'blacklist' of maids on a Hong Kong parenting website and Government restrictions on how long under-18s can spend playing online games each day.
Professor Rogerson, Director of DMU's Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, said: "The current view in China is very similar to that held in Europe and North America before the subject of computer ethics was fully integrated into IT teaching.
"In both cases, information technologists in general believed that technology is technology and ethics is ethics and the two are not related.
"The examples we found clearly show that computer ethics is as much an issue in China as it is in the rest of the world.
"We believe it is paramount that computer ethics be embedded within the computer science curriculum."
Professors Rogerson and Bynum were inspired to write the paper after organising the global IT ethics event ETHICOMP Working Conference 2007, which was held at Yunnan University in China in April.
During their time in China they met Buddhist master Ke Xiang, editor of the Chinese journal Bao'en 2007, which is publishing their paper.
Professor Bynum, who is also a Visiting Professor at DMU, said: "We were inspired by our conversation with Ke Xiang, which demonstrated that the ethical wherewithal and wisdom to deal with computer ethics challenges already exists within Chinese society.
"The great teachings of Chinese philosophers and thinkers will not only enable China to address technology-generated ethical issues, they will also enable the country to make a significant contribution globally."
Professor Rogerson added: "Ke Xiang used an analogy between a table and the Internet - he explained that just as coming to the table brings people together so using the Internet can have a similar effect.
"We were also heartened by the fact that a number of Chinese academics we met were very interested in experimenting with the inclusion of computer ethics within their courses."
When preparing the paper, Professors Rogerson and Bynum examined several issues of a Chinese national newspaper and a weekly business magazine to see what social and ethical computing concerns were being reported.
Among the stories they found were:
- A Hong Kong parenting website criticised for hosting a blacklist of more than 100 foreign maids accused of stealing, beating children, lying or being lazy. The maids' details listed on the site included names, photos and passport numbers.
- A new government regulation requiring online game operators to set up a 'game fatigue system' to discourage players under 18 from playing for more than three hours a day. Online gamers are required to use their real names and identity card numbers to show if they are younger than 18.
- A call for a code of conduct for bloggers "to avoid the spread of verbal violence on the Internet." "We Chinese should be familiar with what havoc verbal violence can wreak on society," the piece stated.
- A discussion of China's Intellectual Property Right (IPR) policies and standards in relation to technology and computing.
- A campaign by China's Ministry of Public Security to step up the battle against piracy of software, CDs and DVDs.
The ETHICOMP conference series was launched in 1995 by DMU's Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR). Professor Simon Rogerson, Director of the CCSR, and Professor Terry Bynum, visiting Professor at DMU and Director of Southern Connecticut State University's Research Center on Computing and Society, founded the series and are Joint Directors. In its second decade, ETHICOMP is organising special "reaching out" conferences to provide a forum for scholars from diverse cultures. ETHICOMP 2007, held in Tokyo in March, and ETHICOMP Working Conference 2007 hosted by Yunnan University in China in April were the first conferences in the exciting new initiative.
Ke Xiang is Master of the Ningbo Seven Pagoda Temple and Member of the Board of Directors of the China Buddhist Association.