Essay 1 – Applying the Code

Essay 1 – Applying the Code
Pick one of the following topics, and write a report of approximately 1,000 words (excluding the
bibliography) in response to the question posed for your chosen topic. Further instructions follow; please
ensure you review them before beginning to write.
Topic A – Boeing 737 MAX Scandal
The Boeing 737 MAX is one of the best-selling commercial airliners of all time. One of its major selling
points was a new, more fuel-efficient engine design. At the same time, when the plane was put into
service in 2017, Boeing claimed there was no need to retrain pilots familiar with earlier Boeing 737
models to fly it. But it soon became clear that the plane had significant safety problems. In October 2018
and March 2019, two 737 MAX planes crashed, killing nearly 350 people. Governments around the world
responded by banning the 737 MAX from flying in their airspace.
The problem was with a piece of software installed on the planes’ computer systems, called the
Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). This software is designed to automatically
compensate for a design flaw: the new engines on the 737 MAX have a tendency to make the plane tilt
up, potentially causing a stall. MCAS compensates by automatically tilting the nose of the plane down;
this was determined to be one of the major causes of the crashes.
Did Boeing act unethically? Use the sociotechnical systems perspective to analyse the details of the
Boeing scandal, and apply the ACM Code to determine whether the company acted unethically. Make
recommendations for how the company could have handled the problem better.
Use the following article to begin researching this case:
https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/boeing-employees-ridicule-737-max-in-internal-messages-1.5421816
Topic B – Zoom Security
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom was an obscure video calling platform mostly used in the
business world. But when the virus began to force people across the world to work from home in
February–March 2020, its ease of use and surprisingly high-quality connection made it the app of choice
for everything from lecturing to church groups to games of Dungeons & Dragons. “Zooming in” to work
or school has become a regular feature of pandemic life.
In the midst of Zoom’s newfound success, however, several security flaws came to light. At first, media
reports focused on the phenomenon of “Zoombombing,” where strangers would invade unsecured Zoom
meetings to cause a disruption, often through lewd or abusive behaviour. It also emerged that the
company had falsely claimed that all of its connections were end-to-end encrypted, when that feature was
still in development. Other security flaws included installing code that remained after the software was
PHIL 2490 & CSCI 3101 Essay 1 Instructions
uninstalled from Macs, and bugs that could leave the user’s microphone and camera vulnerable to
hackers.
Did Zoom act unethically? Use the sociotechnical systems perspective to analyse the details of Zoom’s
security problems, and apply the ACM Code to determine whether the company acted unethically. Make
recommendations for how the company could have handled the problem better.
Use the following article to begin researching this case:
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/02/zoom-says-engineers-will-focus-on-security-and-s
afety-issues
Further Instructions
To do well on this assignment, you must:
● Answer the question. Your essay should clearly indicate the position you will be arguing for in a
thesis statement in the introduction. Is the company’s behaviour unethical or not?
● Justify your answer with ethical arguments. Your essay must present a case for why the
answer you picked is correct, rather than simply asserting that it is. Your answer must take a stand
on whether something is unethical or not; essays that only argue for why something is or isn’t
legal or prudential will not receive full marks.
● Apply the Sociotechnical System Perspective. Your essay must use the sociotechnical systems
perspective to describe the different aspects of the case. See the Huff reading for more
information. You needn’t mention every element of the system, but you should mention all that
are ethically relevant.
● Apply the Code. Your arguments must discuss how different principles and guidelines from the
ACM Code apply to the case at hand. Use the reading “Applying the Code” as a model.
● Write in clear, formal English, and present your arguments in an organized way. Some of
your grade is based on the quality of your writing. Spelling, grammar, and style errors will lower
your grade, as will unclear writing or a structure that is difficult to follow.
● Follow the formatting requirements. To facilitate marking and aid in mitigating unconscious
bias, please ensure your assignment follows the specifications in the Assignment Formatting
Checklist on Brightspace. Do not include your name anywhere on the assignment and do not
include a title page—type your Banner number in the header instead. Submit your assignment
electronically on Brightspace as a PDF, Word, OpenDocument Text, or Rich Text file. Each
failure to follow formatting requirements will incur a cumulative –0.5% penalty to your
assignment grade.
● Do not plagiarize or engage in any other form of academic dishonesty. Unless you have made
special arrangements, your work will be analysed by Urkund to check for instances of plagiarism.
Review the Examples of Plagiarism handout on Brightspace. Double-check your citations and
bibliography to ensure that you do not accidentally plagiarise any content. Additionally,
collaboration on this assignment is not allowed; this assignment assesses your individual work.
PHIL 2490 & CSCI 3101 Essay 1 Instructions
It is your responsibility as a student to read, understand, and follow the university’s policies on
plagiarism and academic integrity. Don’t jeopardize your grade or your degree!
Your essay will be graded using the Essay 1 Rubric, which is posted on Brightspace. Please familiarize
yourself with its criteria before you start to write.
Writing Support
The instructor and TAs are available to consult by email, or audio/video call by appointment. We are
happy to offer feedback on ideas and outlines. If time permits, we may be able to offer feedback on drafts.
The University Writing Centre has moved its services online. Visit their website for information on how
they can help you develop your academic writing skills:
https://www.dal.ca/campus_life/academic-support/writing-and-study-skills.html
Other support services are listed in Section B of the syllabus.
PHIL 2490 & CSCI 3101 Essay 1 Instructions

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Explanation important:

Justify your answer with ethical arguments. Your essay must present a case for why the

answer you picked is correct, rather than simply asserting that it is. Your answer must take a stand on whether something is unethical or not; essays that only argue for why something is or isn’t legal or prudential will not receive full marks.

By “make presenting a case,” I mean you need to make an argument to try to convince the reader that your thesis is correct. That is to say, provide some reasons to think that your answer to the essay question is correct, and explain those reasons in enough detail for the reader to follow your thinking. (Think of it how a lawyer might “present their case” for the defence or the prosecution: the lawyer is arguing that the accused is innocent or guilty by giving some evidence and explaining why that evidence counts in favour of one verdict or another.)

The contrast between “asserting” that something is true and “presenting a case” that something is true goes something like this:

  • Asserting: “It was wrong for John to publish his code.” (This just claims that John did something wrong, but doesn’t explain why we should think this is true.)
  • Arguing, but not well: “It was wrong for John to publish his code, because doing so violated Principle 1.2. of the ACM Code, ‘Avoid harm.'” (This gives a reason why we should think John did something wrong, but it still doesn’t explain why we should think this is true because we’re not told how John’s action violated that principle. The case for thinking John did something wrong is still unclear.)
  • Arguing by presenting a case: “It was wrong for John to publish his code. The program he wrote was a virus, which was designed to damage other computer systems. Damaging people’s computer systems can cause harm because it may destroy important data or interfere with the system’s operation. Publishing code that damages computer systems, as John did, thus violates Principle 1.2. of the ACM Code, ‘Avoid harm.'” (Instead of just asserting that John did something wrong, this presents a case for why we should think John did something wrong by making an argument. It tells us not just that John did something wrong, but gives a reason for thinking so and explains how that reason applies to the case.)

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