Month: March 2013

Ethics of Online Gaming

Ethics of Online Gaming

Online gaming comes with a slew of ethical issues. Whether you’re talking about ethics within the virtual world, the ethics of the game designers, or the social consequences of the players themselves, online gaming has both destroyed and taken life.
How can an online game actually take life? Not directly, but the addiction causes deaths to online games each year. Some deaths are caused by pure exhaustion from not sleeping. Others are from bladder infections by not getting up and using the restroom. There have also been suicides directly linked to gaming addiction.

The addiction is mainly a result of the design of the game. World of Warcraft (WOW) has different statuses you can achieve while playing the game. World of Warcraft used to have a status called Grand Marshal that a player could achieve. According to a former player, it took about a month of dedicated game play (12 – 16 hours a day) and the help of others in the game. The player who achieved this rank quit the game shortly afterwards. Many other former Grand Marshals also ended up quitting the game entirely. Even addictions have a point where you get burnt out.

The decision by Blizzard, the makers of WOW, to even have a title of Grand Marshal brings ethical questions. If the designers of the game knew that the player would have essentially have to devote their life to the game for a long period of time, were they not concerned for the players health or the social consequences from the player? It seems pretty clear to me that Blizzard was only concerned with making money, and had no regard for the social consequences the players were going through.
South Korea has seen the destruction online games can have on a society, and they’re doing something about it. South Korea is well known for its love of video games. Starcraft is very popular there, drawing thousands of people to watch gaming competitions, much like we do here in America for a basketball or football game. Over the past few years the South Korean government has started passing laws against online gaming. Limiting availability by age, giving parents control over the amount their children can play, and influencing design decisions with the game makers themselves.

With more than half of the nearly 50 million people in South Korea playing online games, it becomes a threat to the productivity of the society. I think the government has every right to implement these laws. The addiction is real, and the government should step in to try and curb the number of people who become addicted.

Personally, my Wife and I are already struggling against games with our children. According to a report, the most addictive games are the ones that have no end. My 9 year old son plays Minecraft on the Xbox, and also downloaded a version for the PC. From what I can tell, in Minecraft, a player keeps collecting more things, and building new things. The more they collect, the neater things they can build. My 6 year old also plays, and he has already peed his pants twice from not going to the bathroom while playing. We do limit their play to only the weekends, and then limit time on the weekends. We hope this helps them out by not becoming addicted to gaming.

I recommended this article from a former WOW player. He does a great job explaining how the game got a hold of him, and why he eventually quit (http://www.cesspit.net/drupal/node/1001).

References:

Socal Consequenses of Gaming Addiction. Retrieved from http://www.video-game-addiction.org/social-consequences.html
The Top 10 Deaths Caused by Video Games. Feb. 24, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.spike.com/articles/id98jf/the-top-10-deaths-caused-by-video-games
Video game addiction. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_addiction
Dr. Brent Conrad. Why are video games so addictive? Retrieved from http://www.techaddiction.ca/why_are_video_games_addictive.html
Grand Marshal. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Marshal
Tassi, Paul. New Korean Law Lets Parents Decide When Their Kids Can Play Games. July 2nd, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/07/02/new-korean-law-lets-parents-decide-when-their-kids-can-play-games/
Sun, Carolyn. Online Cravings. Oct. 7th, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/10/16/south-korea-s-video-game-addiction.html

Bioengineering Ethics

Bioengineering Ethics

There are ethical issues related to bioengineering. A topic that is always up for debate is the science of cloning. Cloning is the replication of a life form by creating copies of DNA fragments. Cloning is similar to making a copy of a computer file. It is meant to be an exact replica of the original life form.

Many religious organizations oppose cloning due the very nature of the science. Many religious beliefs consider each person unique with each person or life form being created by a higher power, such as God. Cloning basically takes the place of God, as humans become the manufacturer of life instead of nature. Currently 13 states ban any form of reproductive cloning and 3 states prohibit use of public funds for any cloning related activities. There are currently no federal laws that prohibit cloning.
Human dignity is a common argument against cloning. The fact that cloning is not dignified, is enough for the catholic church to condemn cloning. It’s also enough for Canada to prohibit the following: Cloning humans, cloning stem cells, growing human embryos for research purposes, sex selection, and buying or selling of embryos, sperm, eggs or other human reproductive material.
Cloning for the greater good of humanity does not bring as much defiance. In fact, cloning has great benefits in the form of crops. Cloning can be used to improve the quality of the crops that we eat. It makes the plants resistant to herbicides, pest damage, infections and diseases. Cloned plants such as wheat, rice, maize, soybean, potato and others have been produced and are ready to be introduced into agriculture in the new future. Cloning genetically engineered animals can also be beneficial for highly efficient food production.

Cloning animals is still a highly inefficient process. The success rate ranges from .1 to 3 percent. So for every 1000 tries only around 30 will be successful. Therefore its simply not worth the effort at this point.

References:
The University of Utah. Cloning. Retrieved from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/tech/cloning/
Wikipedia. Cloning. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloning#Ethical_issues_of_cloning
Wikipedia. Biological Engineering. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_engineering

Technology Privacy

Technology Privacy

Almost any new technology has to consider privacy issues. Technology created in the field of medicine and health care have to consider privacy. Companies such as Google and Facebook have to consider privacy simply to keep the trust of their user base. Consumers need to trust who they are using services from. Facebook has been in the news the last few years especially when they change privacy rules without informing their users. Users often need to be proactive to change their privacy settings, otherwise their data will be publicly available.

When a technology company gives away their service for free, the consumer must look at their privacy policies very closely. Information ethics will become more prominent as the Internet becomes more social. People are sharing things such as photos, likes and their daily thoughts now more than ever. Who knows, we may be at the peak of social information online? People may get turned off by sharing so much information, and we could be in for an information decline in the next few years.

Media Propaganda

Media Propaganda

When thinking about sensationalism and propaganda within media stories. A few instances stick out to me. The first example is when George Bush, our 43rd president, started campaigning to reform social security. His mission was to privatize social security due to the upcoming projected shortfalls in the social security funds.
The projections are that payroll taxes will only cover 75% of the scheduled social security payouts between 2033-2086. What George Bush was trying to do, was to get a higher return on the money in the trust, in order to help offset the remaining 25% shortfall.

I remember multiple media outlets were reporting how bad, or questionable, an idea this was. A particular news program showed the graph with the shortfall, and then said, “We only come up 25% short”. Of course this was right after the dot com bubble and nasdaq tech stock crash, so the media was playing off those fears. But I feel the main reason that social security reform failed, was because of the media.

Media has powerful effect on how we think, especially if we believe we are getting information from a trusted source that just reports the news. Of course, almost all media outlets put their own spin on the news, and report it how they see fit.
Another story that sticks out to me is when 60 minutes came to my hometown, Newton, IA in October of 2010. They were reporting on how angry people are at the economy and the government. They interviewed a few business owners and some local vocals who had been laid off, probably by Maytag a couple of years ago.

The story angered me, as a resident of Newton, because they only interviewed people who were out of work or had a suffering business. They didn’t interview me, who was doing great as a software engineer. They didn’t interview the former execs at Maytag who retired with boat loads of cash. They choose to interview the person who was out of work and angry at the government. I believe the quote from the person was, “The government needs to get us jobs!”.
The motivation behind each of these journalistic media reports was to influence people’s way of thinking. These stories had obvious spins to them.

Is spinning a story ethical? There is always an ethical dilemma when reporting what the facts are, and reporting what sells. Over time people tend not to trust any source of information that proves not to be ethical. When trust is lost, credibility is lost. When credibility is lost, sales suffer.

As a society I don’t feel we have a responsibility around how sensationalism and propaganda affects us, unless it is government sponsored. Privately sponsored messages can do whatever they’d like. After all most of it is just opinions. Free speech!
What crosses the line is when a government, such as North Korea, flat out lies to its people to influence their thinking. Then you are essentially brain washing your population. That is when it definitely crosses the line.

References:
Anger In The Land, 60 Minutes
October 2010

Social security debate in the United States, Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Security_debate_in_the_United_States

Culture Influencing Design

Culture Influencing Design

A company I am starting for in a couple of weeks, Aspenware, has a unique culture in the landscape of technology companies in the Denver area. I recently talked to the CEO about the design of the office, and if that had any affect on the culture. When imagining the design, think of colorful walls, giant balls for chairs, and odd shaped tables. He went on to say that the culture was the ultimate influence in the design of the office. The culture took on a life of its own from the collective personalities of the employees. The design of the office eventually came to reflect the culture in the company.

Energy Industry and Pollution

Energy Industry and Pollution

In the case of energy companies, the main ethical consideration is pollution. The famous suit against chemical companies has to be Erin Brockovich when her law firm went up against Pacific Gas & Electric. The movie definitely gave a bad reputation to energy companies nationwide, not just Pacific Gas & Electric.

The problem with companies that have pollutants is that there is a benefit to what they are doing, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. They were not built just to send pollutants into the air, they were built to product energy. It is this energy that we use every day to power our homes, businesses and traffic lights. Inevitably there will be an accident where pollutants get into the ground water or soil surrounding one of these plants. It is this risk/reward that we have deal with in our society.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is in place to protect us from mishaps from energy companies, and other companies that produce pollutants. There are very strict testing requirements facilities have to follow in order to operate. My father is the owner of Keystone Laboratories in Newton, IA. At Keystone Laboratories they see these kinds of mishaps all the time. Just a couple of years ago there was a big testing and cleanup effort on behalf of Pella Windows in Pella, IA. It’s not just big smoke stack facilities that can put pollutants into the ground.

Most of the dangers from energy facilities can be anticipated. The EPA knows what kind of chemicals to test for based on what the facility is producing. Each industry has its own set of toxins that is produced as by-product. If it is not caught at the facility, it will eventually get caught downstream. Perhaps it would get caught in well testing or from a farmer testing his soil.

There are many industries that face ethical issues, a similar one to the energy industry would be the chemical manufacturing industry. Just the word chemical had a negative connotation to it, so they are immediately facing an uphill battle. The experiments and tests the companies use to do research, often come into question. Many people are against testing on animals, which will always be an issue for chemical manufacturers.

The field of chemical engineering also includes biological and or chemical weapons, which is one of ultimate ethical questions we face on earth. War is already about killing, but most argue that there is humane killing. Biological weapons lead to suffering, and not necessarily death. The ethics of biological weapons is very similar to nuclear weapons, in which they can harm people far beyond the impact zone.

In the case of chemical weapons, it is impossible to completely govern them. There are international laws in place to prohibit the development, stockpiling, production and use of chemical weapons. The Iraq army was blamed in using chemical weapons during the gulf war. George Bush responded saying he would bomb Iraq with the same chemicals used.

As far as energy companies go, the best resource we have is quality testing by independent laboratories and regulation by the government.

The Gods Must be Crazy – Ethical Dilemas

The Gods Must be Crazy – Ethical Dilemas

When the villagers were fighting over the Coke bottle, that scenario instantly reminding me of my 3 kids when they fight over 1 important object. Usually that object is a video game system, or the iPad. Car trips can be the worst, especially when only 1 device is charged, and the 3 of them have to share it. With the age differences (9,6,3) some children are more irrational than others, which usually escalates the problem. My Wife and I often view these devices as evil, and would gladly walk to the edge of the Earth to throw them away.

At the end of the movie I thought it was interesting when Mr. Steyn was trying to give a reward to Xi (The Bushman). Xi didn’t know what to do with the money, but Steyn knew that giving a reward was the ethical thing to do. It was somewhat of a dilema for both of them since neither of them were familiar with each others cultures.

Another culture clash in the movie came when Xi was hungry from his walk, and was going to eat one of the goats that belonged to somebody. Xi obviously didn’t know that goats could belong to somebody. He was so nieve that he was obilivous to the fact that he was making the people angry. The guard ending up shooting him in the leg for it. Xi only had good intentions, and was shot for it.

I was a little disturbed when the people came into the political office and started shooting. That was a werid part of the movie. I’m not even sure why that scene was there. It’s almost like there was two different movies. One was the teacher going to the tribe or city, and the other was the military aspect of it. Maybe there was even three separate parts, if you include the Bushman Coke bottle. Now that I’m typing this out, it makes sense that there was three different stories.

It’s interesting how the three stories converge at the end. Almost like a Seinfield episode. When you think about ethical and moral issues that came up in the end of the movie, I think of when the Bushman came down disguised as a prisioner, and put the guards to sleep. It goes to show how one’s morals can change over time. Before the Xi’s journey, I’m not sure if he would sneak up to a mob of people and put some of them to sleep. I think that he realized that there are evil people in the world. Xi certainly discovered that after the stabbing at the goat farm.

From what I’ve learned about morals, it really depends on what you’ve been taught during your childhood. Morals come from your values, and values are taught by the people you grow up with. Throughout this movie, and every movie in existence, there are many moral and ethical issues that come up.

There was a small ethical dilema for Mr. Steyn when Kate was stuck in the tree with only her underwear on. He tried to be polite and not look at her, but she also needed his help. Akward situation for Mr. Steyn and Kate.

Altruistic Business Charity – Personal Experience

Altruistic Business Charity – Personal Experience

A few years when I was a part owner in a company. I was asked by a friend to contribute to the YMCA scholarship fund. I realized that my company had done nothing in the form of charity in the last 3 years of its existence. I consulted the other owners and we decided to give $250 to the scholarship fund.

After we gave the donation I immediately updated the web site to show that Keystone Materials Testing proudly supports the YMCA scholarship fund. I believe that contribution was given in 2010, and it’s still on the web site. Most people probably think we support the fund annually, but we haven’t given any more money to it since 2010.

The point is that we really weren’t concerned about the scholarship, but about our corporate image. Perhaps that is why I’m so skeptical of other companies being aultruistic.

When is it ethical to quit a job?

When is it ethical to quit a job?

Is there a certain period of time where one should stay at a job, even if they don’t enjoy what they’re doing?
Are there certain circumstances that gives the company a good excuse to leave a job? An example would be if the company got bought out by a larger company that brings a lot of red tape and process.

Altruism in Advertising?

Altruism in Advertising?

A great truth in advertising example that rings a bell is the Domino’s Pizza campaign a few years ago. Dominos came out and said that their pizza sucked. They went out to see what would happen if they were honest to the viewing public. They didn’t just say the pizza sucked, but also said they’re coming out with a new recipe that is much better. The public responded very positively to the news, with sales increasing by 15% within a few months.

I first read about this phenomenon in Fortune, as they reported the stock price more than doubled within a year after the truth in advertising campaign began. I think it’s a great case study in how truth in advertising can work.