The ethics of technology and their application is an oft debated subject. What is ignored is that, without technology, these debates on ethics and morality would not even occur. While it has been cited that our social development has been lacking with regards to our technological development, it is technology, in part, that forces us to develop socially as well. The nature of this tension between an objectifying technology and the subjective issues of ethics and morality is even found in the words we use to describe technologies.
The word "device" has several meanings:
- a thing made for a particular purpose; an invention or contrivance, especially a mechanical or electrical one.
- a plan or scheme for effecting a purpose.
- a crafty scheme; trick.
- a particular word pattern, figure of speech, combination of word sounds, etc., used in a literary work to evoke a desired effect or arouse a desired reaction in the reader: rhetorical devices.
- something elaborately or fancifully designed.
Note how a term we often use when speaking of our technological gadgetry can be both "a thing made for a practical purpose" and "a crafty scheme; trick."
The word "machine" has a similar duality -- "a mechanical apparatus or contrivance", deriving from the Latin machina, again includes the concept of a "trick." The similar word "machination" means "an intrigue, plot, or scheme."
As software engineers, we employ our "craft" in the construction of computer programs, using the definition "an art, trade or occupation requiring special skill", however, the term can also mean "skill in deception and trickery."
Even the word "technology", deriving from the Greek teckhne, "was not concerned with the necessity and eternal a priori truths of the cosmos, nor with the a posteriori contingencies and exigencies of ethics and politics." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techne) In this interpretation we see that technology lives outside the realm of truth and ethics. Further "Epistêmê is the Greek word most often translated as knowledge, while technê is translated as either craft or art." (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/episteme-techne/) Here again we have a reference to "craft."
It is an interesting thing to notice how several of our words, "device", "machine", "craft", and "technology", have a duality to them, indicating both something representing skill and purpose as well as craftiness and trickery. This duality has its parallels and expression in the complexities in determining the ethics of a technology in all its various applications.
-- Reference: In the Belly of the Beast, Technology, Nature, and the Human Prospect, Steve Talbott, 2004, ISBN: 0-9744906-1-X