Ethics in Julia

Yes I know. The trillions good things doesn’t matter if you did this single “bad” thing (in someones eyes).

But there is more to business: it means hundreds or thousands of employees and their families, too, who want to earn for a living. Don’t stop thinking when you arrived at the evil corporation or person who threatens you. Think further, there is always more to it.

Yes, Julia is a business. I am not that naive. I am working against cancer, a public institute, but it could be a pharma corporation, not so far away and they are in our projects. So there is quite some business involved. And even I need money for me and my family to live. So I would be quite surprised if my work wouldn’t contribute into e.g. patents, which again would make others rich and not me typically. This is nothing which should annoy me. Ultimately some else has seen his opportunity (and was in position) where I have seen nothing at all.
(This doesn’t justify real actions against you, to make this clear!)
(What I say is maybe off the point, as I don’t know, what happens to you, I admit, I found it difficult to understand clearly, there is probably a lot in between the lines)
(You are editing your post, so I will read it again later :slight_smile: )


Yea I have a propensity for the cryptic. (I am saying “you” but not directing this to any single person)

But I’ll be clear THERE IS NOTHING wrong with making money, I’m all for it! I’m just saying, very little of our ethical concerns matter whatsoever, and they will not change much of anything unless most people are already on board. My opinion is: let julia computing do their thing, support them if you like it, don’t if you don’t, open source your code if you’re aware of the implications, don’t if you’re not. They don’t care if they lose one person, jeese even 100 or 1000, it’s not their bottomline. They have a product, its a good product, people will contribute to it (grad. students will be for years to come for pennies on the tax dollar or they will even pay to do this), they have political influence in governmental policy decisions via their parent university. It is what it is.

On a personal level, even leading world researchers have switched fields/interests/projects/etc for reasons like this. It’s part of balancing science and how much of ourselves we are willing to let be consumed to get enough money to survive. We all have our own lines drawn, my advice is don’t bend them in hopes for something shiny(it ain’t coming).

The rules are easy, the complexity is in that we all lack insight into what we’re really contributing too on a larger scale. Are we feeding a monster, or a friend? Is feeding a monster or even a friend beneficial to the world? Does feeding a friend turn them into a monster? Does feeding a monster turn them into a friend. Do we care about the world, maybe just our country, or our family? Depends on where your line is and what you want out of things - what’s the risk. If the risk lies in your soul/heart/constitution be careful. If you just need to graduate, or get your next paycheck, embrace the metaphysical suck.


So do I :slight_smile:

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I just wanted to note that I won’t select a reply as a solution since it would be opinion-based. Thanks for the many responses. :slight_smile:

I’m not experienced with online discussions, but IMO the current discussion would be best placed somewhere else. (How about a lunch-break at JuliaCon2020? :wink: )
There is also a slack channel called ‘diversity’ and on this page we have: #community:diversity


It is an ethical obligation if you have a pet monster.


I suppose I wrote that from the perspective of when the power dynamic is more similar to the average user of Julia and JuliaComputing. Is JuliaComputing a monster to feed, or a friend? If we feed them as a friend will they become a monster? If we feed them as a monster, will they become a friend?

Someone could easily drop tens of million of dollar ideas into their laps that they aren’t positioned for. Is that a good idea though? Would it benefit the community, or the communities they’d impact? Would it benefit me? That’s the kind of internal but uttered debate I was offering. Ripple effect.

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I don’t have such a black or white look onto JuliaComputing (or anything else).
A company/organisation like JuliaComputing is very important as it fills out an important and needed role: a contract partner for other companies. A community can not be that, as there is no liable (legal) person.
Not everything they do has to benefit the community. For me it is not this way, it is the other way round: I have to be of a benefit who ever I see responsible for the wealth of Julia, as Julia came as a free gift to me.
If Julia is changing because of somebody like JuliaComputing is doing bad, I have to accept it. Of course I can try to prevent it with my acting (like posting here against it) but at the end, Julia isn’t mine and it isn’t the community which possesses Julia.

Surely there will be edge cases which need to be discussed. Not everything is justified by this position. There is always a social responsibility, because even JuliaComputing would be not much without the community, e.g. we (or just me?) are trying to help people with issues with JuliaPro.

What do you think? Can you be more explicit on JuliaComputing because apparently I lack information here? (you probably can’t, thats ok, just ignore this, no PM needed, just in case)


There’s nothing wrong with JuliaComputing that I know of. I’m just saying, pretty much what you said.

The Ethics aren’t up to us. Whatever they decide we will live by whether we like it or not. They have the power to do what they want with their language, community, etc. We can debate about it, it is open source, but, ultimately, it’s a bit of a facade right? Every contribution we make does have a ripple effect to one or more corporate or governmental interests.

For example: If a julia user lived in another country and made a new high speed algorithm for their hobby, would they/we ever know if JuliaComputing used their code to make more effective algorithms on contract to the US military to help to kill their neighbors? Nope. It’s part of the game. So like I said before - choose your contributions wisely based on your own ethical line.

It’s never all glitter and roses.That being said, it doesn’t seem to be too bad. We’ll see how they hold up ethically over time. My guess is they’ll do better than most, but nothing world changing.


For fun here’s a piece about the creator of YOLO, YOLO v2, and YOLO v3 about why they changed their research interests.

I find it brings an interesting look on the implications of OpenSource that all contributors ought to be aware of before joining/taking part. Also I am not condemning or promoting military use of these sorts of things, but I am saying, if this matters a lot to you, be aware of it.

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In general I think moves like this are bad: research is now done by others but now under the hood. There are always others who do it as good or even better than you/me.
The bomb would still be in the world even without Oppenheimer.
Whatever is engineered or invented you can’t uninvent it. It is out. But what you can do is to give it to the public, to make it public to make the implications public. This is the first responsibility of the inventor. Withdrawing is neglecting responsibility.

OK, withdrawing from research doesn’t exclude to speak up publicly against something. Don’t know if this is case in this example.

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Public and global dissemination is a solution. That’s the Nikola Tesla approach. But, putting something on a platter without warnings is potentially irresponsible?

Dunno. I guess that deciding this is really up to the person who has the 10e7 dollars to give away. I am happy to give them advice on this if they ask, but frankly I am not sure why they would do that.

I am not trying to be cynical here, but I do think that a lot of these questions raised in this topic are not community decisions… and that’s kind of all right. Eventually people who do or support some work get to decide a lot of things about it, and it would be unethical to demand that people who don’t contribute should be involved.

The flipside is that it is really easy to influence a lot of things about free software by just contributing.

And incidentally, now I really want a pet monster. :wink:


What I find difficult about the focus on extreme cases (like bombs/screwdrivers): they seemingly imply that ethical science leads to less good science.

I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, for example, an ecosystem for data science could benefit from features/tutorials and examples around questions like: how to ensure data privacy and enhance fairness besides existing biases in data, like here:
[I will probably spend the afternoon trying to make a small Julia notebook to learn it myself :smiley: ]
Adding such features does not force anyone to use them…

Yes, I agree. That was probably a misconception I had when I asked the question…
I guess, the community could maybe ask for features or point out concerns (like it already happened). But a community-wide agreement on non-trivial ethical equations would be impossible. So, it’s rather up to the contributors to make the decisions.


Yep agreed, these decisions are for the business not the users or customers. I think it’s hard for many people to conceptualize this is a for profit thing. Open source in those territories is trickier.

Also, I kind of want a pet monster too! But is it ethical? Just kidding

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Again, I stumble over some words here and need to clarify my view: It is not the community (we) and others (e.g. JuliaComputing). It is more that all groups, which somehow have to do with Julia, the language, are overlapping. This overlapping set is the community!

To contribute with respect to the title of this thread, can also be seen e.g. to use Julia and ask for help here. Not only those who did a lot of coding are contributers in this sense. Or another example: an article about Julia in a public newspaper could be seen as contribution, although the author isn’t programming at all.

The latest, IMO, very ethical decision, can be witnessed reading the thread about Telemetry. I know, you know it. Stefan (and the others) are rethinking their approach after concerns from the community to the community (as Stefan and the others are clearly part of it). It was a good, sometimes extreme (IMO), discussion.

What I want to say: when ethic is on the line, never going in against a sicilian! … no, somehow it came to mind… what I want to say: when it is about ethic, it is not so much about decisions, and who has to make them. It is much more about the discussion itself and the various viewpoints!

This discussion is quite unfocused. Thats fine for me as its a lazy sunday. Excuse me, if I am too unfocused for you.

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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 :wink:

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: :put_litter_in_its_place: one of the more popular debuggers in our language community is framed around an ableist joke. :put_litter_in_its_place:

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I don’t really have much to add here, but

made me curious; can you elaborate a bit on that statement?

Also, auto correct or something seems to have changed “JuliaCon” to “julie khan” in your post.

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I think this is almost impossible unless you are also willing to hobble the language or ecosystem for ethical usecases.

Julia is already used by pharmaceutical companies and investment banks that are “morally ambiguous” in the eyes of some, though the ways in which they are using so far seem to be quite positive. (On the other hand, questionable uses would be unlikely to be publicized)

Ultimately, open source projects that succeed and thrive tend to do so because of the patronage of business users. If I understand correctly, this is where Julia Computing’s money comes from. I would hope that Julia Computing would decline to work on projects with obviously unethical goals, but unfortunately, putting hooks in a license that prohibit the unethical usage of software tends to put off all business customers, not just bad actors. Company lawyers don’t want to be on the hook for someone else’s interpretation of ethics.

The only thing you could really do is define a set of unethical behaviors that are prohibited, but you’re never going to get a lawyer to sign off on vague language about ethics.

Furthermore, many unethical uses of software would not involve distribution at all. Policing internal business uses of software is beyond the scope of every open-source license I’m aware of and would be virtually impossible to enforce.

Julia is a powerful tool, and many of the packages in its ecosystem are powerful tools as well. I think it’s inevitable that some people will take advantage of that power for usecases that most of us would consider unethical. I don’t believe it’s possible to avoid this without crippling the language for ethical usecases.

Think of how many ethical abominations have been made possible by calculus—and then consider what a world without it would look like. When you create a system that augments humans’ problem-solving ability, you will always take the bad with the good.


Also, there are some people who consider the whole of capitalism/market economy “unethical” etc. For pretty much every human endavour you can find a group of people who will have moral qualms about it.

Nevertheless there is nothing preventing software authors from choosing a license according to their ethical preferences. There are examples like the Hippocratic License; I don’t know how these things fare in practice though.


I’d also like to point out that licenses like this one aren’t considered FOSS by any definition of “free and open source”.