Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences
Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

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Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

5 Landscape with Weapon: an allegory

5.1 Introduction

In this section I want to introduce Joe Penhall's play Landscape with Weapon. Having read the play several times, I must stress that it is a text that is particularly rich in ethical issues. These issues, however, are presented in a very down-to-earth way, in a very lively dialogue. I think the lesson from this is that you do not need to be in any kind of ‘formal’ situation to engage with ethics. Everyday conversation is littered with references and arguments about ethical matters, and this play enables you to see that because the dialogue is written down.

Landscape with Weapon centres on the development and exploitation of a weapon system, but you could think of it as an allegory for any technology that has the potential to do harm. So, although the discussion revolves around weapons, you could think of any other piece of technology, really. Of course, the weapon system will inevitably cause fatalities if used and, in many cases, the likely potential harms of different pieces of technology are not necessarily fatalities. But we have seen that there can be simple things like ‘visual intrusion’ that can also be seen as a kind of harm. Other possibilities include a technology that might create harmful social divisions, a technology that might have the potential to cause injury or, even, the extravagant uses of resources. The play indeed refers to the knife as a piece of technology that could cause injury, but is, nevertheless, a valuable object when used for all sorts of practical purposes.

The play raises all sorts of incredible questions. One is that it is quite easy for technology, any technology, to be justified by a concept that it is never the technology itself that is the problem, that it is the way people use it that causes the problem, the ‘people kill, not guns’ line I examined in Section 1. Of course, that is an argument that is regularly used by the weapons industry, but when applied generally to any technology it creates an impossible conundrum to resolve. Instead of talking in terms of generalities, I think we need to look at specific situations and specific circumstances. Only then can we draw judgements about how the technology is used in a particular situation, and whether that is, in some sense, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ use of the technology. Landscape with Weapon is fictional but it is not generalised. It deals with specific people and specific relationships, and we hear first-hand from the characters.

So, to summarise: Landscape with Weapon can be viewed as an allegory referring to almost any technology, including, of course, information and computer systems. This is because almost any technology can cause harm of one kind or another.

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