Take the Computer Scientists’ Oath

June 9, 2017 at 7:00 am 7 comments

My colleague Beth Mynatt (on the right above) gave a commencement address at one of her alma maters, and came up with the great idea of a Computer Scientists Oath.  I’m quoting it below in its entirely, but recommend the article for more context on her oath and her speech.  I am teaching ethics (“CS4001 Computers and Society”) for the first time this summer in Barcelona. I hadn’t realized that most students in my classes haven’t thought about these issues — I didn’t realize the bubble in which I live (e.g., Human-Centered Computing PhD program, a School of Interactive Computing) where we do talk about such things. I agree with Beth for the need of such an oath, and I’m proud of her efforts to create one.  Barbara Ericson sent me an Engineering Oath that is particularly aimed at Facebook and other Silicon Valley engineers — some of these ideas could influence a future Computer Scientists Oath.

During her remarks, Mynatt lamented that the field of computer science lacks a professional oath to bind them together at this important moment as they embark on their careers. In the spirit of the medical field’s Hippocratic oath, she challenged the graduates to join her and take the following oath, as a formal recognition of the importance of our field to the wellbeing of society, and our collective responsibility to fulfill our obligations:

Today, I join the ranks of computer scientists worldwide. 

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings.

I will design and build computing systems that enhance the quality of daily life for individuals and for society.

I will protect the dignity of users and others affected by computing systems, respecting the diversity of all cultures, and safeguarding against threats to health and safety.

I will respect the privacy and rights of all people and recognize the special role I have in judiciously collecting, storing and using their information, and creating systems that aim to shape their behavior.

I will work for fair wages; honorably guarding my reputation and my colleagues in our work practices, while respecting the intellectual contributions of others.I will improve the public understanding of computing and its consequences.

May I always act so, as to preserve the finest traditions of my field, and may I long experience the joy of inventing the future through my endeavors.

Source: Department of Computer Science at North Carolina State University

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Congratulations to Owen, Valerie, and Chris — ACM Award Winners! Older Adults Learning Computer Programming: Motivations, Frustrations, and Design Opportunities

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michael Goldweber  |  June 9, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Check out http://pledge-of-the-computing-professional.org/
    This pledge, which also includes a short “ceremony” for graduating seniors has also been endorsed by COPE and SIGCAS.

  • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  June 9, 2017 at 10:08 am

    It might be good to start from the IEEE Code of Ethics:

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  June 10, 2017 at 3:44 am

      I’m teaching Ethics this summer, and we discussed the differences between Oaths and Code of Ethics. Michael J. Quinn’s book “Ethics for the Information Age” (we’re using sixth edition) discusses the IEEE Code of Ethics in a lot of detail, and I had the students read and compare the ACM Code of Ethics. It’s interesting the Hippocratic Oath is much older than the AMA Code of Ethics. They serve different purposes.

  • 4. David Young  |  June 9, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Bravo! It’s so nice to see someone mention professional responsibility in the computer science context.

    But speaking seriously about ethics in the software sector seems like a sure-fire way to lose influence and/or a job. Can professional responsibility take hold, if the consequences for a software engineer who breaks a code of conduct are not worse than the consequences of doing the right thing and being fired? A computer scientist cannot be “disbarred”.

  • 5. John Estell  |  June 11, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    The following is the Pledge of the Computing Professional, which was developed by an international team of 17 computing professionals in 2011:


    I am a Computing Professional.

    My work as a Computing Professional affects people’s lives, both now and into the future.

    As a result, I bear moral and ethical responsibilities to society.

    As a Computing Professional, I pledge to practice my profession with the highest level of integrity and competence.

    I shall always use my skills for the public good.

    I shall be honest about my limitations, continuously seeking to improve my skills through life-long learning.

    I shall engage only in honorable and upstanding endeavors.

    By my actions, I pledge to honor my chosen profession.


    The Pledge, as mentioned earlier, is endorsed by SIGCAS and COPE, and is also endorsed by the Order of the Engineer. The Pledge currently has “nodes” at 37 institutions across the country, including my place of employment, Ohio Northern University, and my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You can find out more about the Pledge (including list of nodes, videos of ceremonies, ceremony scripts, and info on becoming a node) by visiting its website: http://pledge-of-the-computing-professional.org/

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  June 12, 2017 at 2:14 am

      Thanks, John. If the Pledge was being updated today, do you think that it would add references to systems that shape behavior, like in Beth’s? I’m teaching Ethics this summer, and the complicated issues of Facebook, Uber, and Udacity aren’t well addressed by the Pledge. I like how Beth has thought about what the computer scientists’ role should be in these new systems.

      • 7. John Estell  |  June 12, 2017 at 12:26 pm

        I think that there’s always room for improvement, Mark, and such oaths would benefit from having a periodic review to see if they are still meeting their desired needs. Having respect for users, whether it be their privacy, the security of their data, or how their behavior might be shaped, is something that all computing professionals (CS, IS, IT, et al.) should practice – it would make for a good addition to the Pledge.


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