I was wondering if there is a group of people who think/care about (business) ethical questions in the Julia universe and its packages?
Do we have people in our community who are experienced in such matters and who would spot ethical challenges?
Who knows? If this group of people exists, they’re probably not in the majority right now (and certainly not in the majority of respondents to this thread) It’s most likely there’s not a large group of people who think or care about ethical issues in Julia. Additionally, any such group will probably just be overrun by the people who offer weak rationale for unethical software. Complaints about unethical software will just be drowned out in a sea of comparisons to screwdrivers or obstinate pleas that all software is just a neutral tool.
Almost half of this thread was jettisoned into another thread which devolved into Damore-tier BIOTRUFS (which as some slight consolation was fortunately closed). That’s… uh… not a great omen. My wager? This community probably isn’t yet diverse’* enough to do ethical software work in general. (especially since any ethical calculus applied by folks will just tend to the majority; making it a near certainty that unethical behaviors which impact marginalized groups will be overlooked or supported)
To me, the link to [RFC] GenderInference.jl seems to only further demonstrate this point. Author of a flatly unethical piece of software is exposed to a source that details the moral horrors of what they’ve written… they then claim to have taken the perspective seriously, and then immediately turn around to note that they’re going to use the software to “measure gender representation in publications” anyway which is precisely the sort of unethical behavior the linked criticism lambasts. The library is still up, still racist, and still tries to enshrine a gender binary; aka it is subject to the criticism and hasn’t evolved (or more appropriately; disappeared). There’s plenty of other literature that criticizes what the author of that library implemented; fortunately, their One Trans Friend didn’t give them the relevant cites so the author doesn’t have to entertain any ethical qualms. crisis averted
To me, it seems very unlikely that the community will do anything to outline guidelines around software which is considered so unethical that it should not be implemented or supported. So, really, if we truly do believe julian work often embodies solutions to problems in the “best possible way”, we’re going to have to also believe that it’s inevitable julia will end up used for the most unethical uses imaginable. I have no clue how to throw a spanner into the works, ideas welcome.
There’s already at least one talk in julie khan’* this year which could clearly be a stepping stone towards autonomous killing machines. julia’s machine learning ecosystem is getting better and better. we’re probably faced with the grim inevitability that the best possible solutions to the worst possible ideas will end up implemented in julia. (And they’ll be fast, having defeated the two language problem and all sense of hope or ethics)
It’d be nice if this state of affairs changed, but at this point we probably could start to ask a different question:
“What stories will we tell ourselves to help get to sleep at night as our work is leveraged in the most unethical, inhumane and vicious ways, which we did scarcely anything as a community to prevent?”
As an area of ongoing personal concern, I haven’t figured out what my alibi is going to be, but I may settle for some weak statement like “screwdrivers are cool, but multiple dispatch is even cooler!”
There is also a slack channel called ‘diversity’
that’s a 10k message limit memory hole for diversity discussions; and if you bring something up there someone will say the decision should be best placed somewhere else. so that’s probably a no-go. maybe there’s a diversity or ethics channel on the zulip to continue this discussion.
'* (i have no clue how to put footnotes into discourse, so this will have to suffice) there’s plenty of areas of diversity which come with ethical demands which our community seems entirely unwilling to address; in particular those relating to disability. one example: the fact that most videos advertising julie khan this year have been poorly autocaptioned instead of reliably CART captioned doesn’t seem to bode well for the idea that our community tends to take strong ethical stances in service of diversity/accessibility, even when they may incur additional expense. the norm seems to be to do the bare minimum, maintain no principles, and always compromise in the direction that gets or retains the most grant money or most company money. another example: one of the more popular debuggers in our language community is framed around an ableist joke.