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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

John Weckert

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

My work in the ethics of nanotechnology is probably my most significant simply because when I began little had been done in the field. I published what I believe were the first two papers in refereed journals (at least in English) in the field: “Lilliputian computer ethics”, in Metaphilosophy, 2002, reprinted in James H. Moor and Terrell Ward Bynum, editors, CyberPhilosophy: The Intersection of Philosophy and Computing, Blackwell, Malden, Mass. 2002, and in Herman Tavani and Richard Spinello, Readings in CyberEthics. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2nd ed., 2004, and “The Control of Scientific Research: The Case of Nanotechnology”, The Australian Journal of Professional and Applied Ethics, 2001. Earlier I published a short popular article “Ethics in the nanoworld”, Australasian Science, June, 2001. Currently I am working on an authored book on the topic with James Moor of Dartmouth College in the USA. I have participated in several workshops on ethics and nanotechnology and currently organising one at the Australian National University. This workshop is based around the contributions of nanotechnologists and scientists, and is an effort to discover what these researchers are currently doing and what they see as the likely social and ethical implications of their work. I have also talked on nanoethics at nanotechnology conferences and applied ethics conferences. Currently I am particularly interested in the precautionary principle as it might be applied to nanotechnology. Part of my interest stems from the fact that some see its application as being obviously a good and necessary thing, while others see it as anathema. This involves a careful analysis of the real and potential risks of developments in nanotechnology, as well as an examination of just what the precautionary principle is.

I think that my main contribution to computer ethics is in helping to strengthen the link between the more philosophical and theoretical aspects and the more professional and applied side. My qualifications and experience in both philosophy and Information Technology help here, giving me that ability to both work in the philosophical community and the IT professional one. Being a full member of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) gives me the opportunity to contribute to the IT community and profession that would be difficult otherwise. It has also given me the opportunity to contribute internationally through the affiliation of the ACS with the International Federation of Information Processing (IFIP). This dual background has also helped in my teaching of computer ethics to IT students, who generally are not very interested in philosophy. I endeavour to combine examinations of real world cases which the students see as relevant with a critical analysis of the ethical issues underlying them. In this way the students understand not only what the ethical issues are, but also gain some understanding of methods for solving them.

Brief Biography

John Weckert is Professor of Information Technology in the School of Information Studies Professorial Fellow at the ARC Special Research Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), at Charles Sturt University, and Manager of the CAPPE Programme on Emerging Technologies: IT and Nanotechnology. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and at the University of Melbourne. In the Winter Term in 2004 he was a Visiting Full Professor at Dartmouth College where he taught a course in ethics. He has formal qualifications, teaching and research experience in both philosophy and information technology. His main research interests currently are in computer ethics and in the emerging field of the ethics of nanotechnology. He is the Australian Computer Society (ACS) representative on the Technical Committee on Computers and Society (TC9) of the International Federation of Information Processing (IFIP), and works closely with the ACS on various projects, including one on developing a set case studies to accompany the ACS Code of Ethics, with links between the various cases and clauses in the Code. In 1998 he was a Research Fellow in Internet Ethics at the Dartmouth College Summer Institute, and in 2000 was a Research Fellow of the Research Center Computing and Society at Southern Connecticut State University. In 2001 he was involved in a CAPPE consultancy for the ICAC on electronic corruption in the public sector, and in 2002 in a consultancy with the ACT Government on the digital divide. He has published widely in computer and Internet ethics. Recent publications include, Electronic Monitoring in the workplace: Controversies and Solutions, (ed), Hershey: Idea Press, forthcoming 2004, Moral Philosophy and Information Technology, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2005, (with Jeroen van den Hoven), Computer and Information Ethics, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997, (with Douglas Adeney), (recently translated into Spanish), “Privacy, the workplace and the Internet” (with Seumas Miller), Journal of Business Ethics (December 2000), “IT research and development: should there be control?”, Australian Journal of Information Systems, 8, 2001, “Ethics in the nanoworld”, Australasian Science, June, 2001, “Intellectual property and computer software”, in Robert A. Larmer, editor, Ethics in the Workplace: selected Readings in Business Ethics, second edition, Wadsworth, 2002, 293-300, “Trust, corruption, and surveillance in the electronic workplace” in Klaus Brunnstein and Jacques Berleur, eds. Human Choice and Computers: Issues of Choice and Quality of Life in the Information Society, Kluwer, Boston, “On-line trust”, in Robert Cavalier, ed. The Impact of the Internet on Our Moral Lives, SUNY Press, 2003, (forthcoming 2004), “Cultural imperialism on the Internet: is it a problem?”, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society 1, (with Yeslam Al-Saggaf), 2003, 21-30, and “Applying the new Software Engineering Code of Ethics to Usability Engineering” with Oliver Burmeister), Journal of Information, Communications and Ethics in Society, 2003 (forthcoming). Weckert has also been heavily involved in the development of teaching materials for both on-campus and off-campus students at CSU, in computer ethics and in technical subjects, since 1986. He helped establish the Australian Institute of Computer Ethics and was a founding co-director, and was instrumental in establishing the Computer Ethics Committee of the ACS. He has frequently been in the media discussing topics in computer ethics and in the ethics of nanotechnolgy.