Even while the War was raging, Wiener foresaw enormous social and ethical implications of cybernetics combined with electronic computers.
He predicted that, after the War, the world would undergo “a second industrial revolution” – an “automatic age” with “enormous potential for good and for evil” that would generate a staggering number of new ethical challenges and opportunities.
As a result, he did not coin a name like “computer ethics” or “information ethics”. (See the discussion below.) In spite of this, Wiener’s three relevant books (1948, 1950, 1963) do lay down a powerful foundation, and do use an effective methodology, for today’s field of computer and information ethics.
His thinking, however, was far ahead of other scholars; and, at the time, many people considered him to be an eccentric scientist who was engaging in flights of fantasy about ethics.
“Computer and information ethics”, in the present essay, is understood as that branch of applied ethics which studies and analyzes such social and ethical impacts of ICT.
The more specific term “computer ethics” has been used, in the past, in several different ways.The fact that the mechanical rigidity of the insect is such as to limit its intelligence while the mechanical fluidity of the human being provides for his almost indefinite intellectual expansion is highly relevant to the point of view of this book. man’s advantage over the rest of nature is that he has the physiological and hence the intellectual equipment to adapt himself to radical changes in his environment.The human species is strong only insofar as it takes advantage of the innate, adaptive, learning faculties that its physiological structure makes possible. 57–58, italics in the original) Given the physiology of human beings, it is possible for them to take in a wide diversity of information from the external world, access information about conditions and events within their own bodies, and process all that information in ways that constitute reasoning, calculating, wondering, deliberating, deciding and many other intellectual activities.Wiener’s cybernetic understanding of human nature stressed the physical structure of the human body and the remarkable potential for learning and creativity that human physiology makes possible.While explaining human intellectual potential, he regularly compared the human body to the physiology of less intelligent creatures like insects: .Apparently, no one – not even Wiener himself – recognized the profound importance of his ethics achievements; and nearly two decades would pass before some of the social and ethical impacts of information technology, which Wiener had predicted in the late 1940s, would become obvious to other scholars and to the general public. The metaphysical ideas and analytical methods that he employed were so powerful and wide-ranging that they could be used effectively for identifying, analyzing and resolving social and ethical problems associated with all kinds of information technology, including, for example, computers and computer networks; radio, television and telephones; news media and journalism; even books and libraries.Because of the breadth of Wiener’s concerns and the applicability of his ideas and methods to every kind of information technology, the term “information ethics” is an apt name for the new field of ethics that he founded.Based upon this, he adopted “great principles of justice”, which he believed all societies ought to follow.These powerful ethical concepts enabled Wiener to analyze information ethics issues of all kinds.Everything in the world is a mixture of both of these, and does not secrete thought “as the liver does bile”, as the earlier materialists claimed, nor does it put it out in the form of energy, as the muscle puts out its activity. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day. 155) According to Wiener’s metaphysical view, everything in the universe comes into existence, persists, and then disappears because of the continuous mixing and mingling of information and matter-energy.Living organisms, including human beings, are actually patterns of information that persist through an ongoing exchange of matter-energy.