For the “most ethical computing luminary” award, I am going to look at the two extremes in the group of four luminaries being considered today. Right off the bat, Steve Jobs is out of the competition for this prize. Maybe this isn’t fair because I haven’t done extensive research on him and the entire scope of his computing legacy, but I have stumbled upon many articles (1, 2, 3) that keep bringing up the lack of consideration for labor laws or philanthropy and generally abusive leadership style (and also the small matter of taking credit for other peoples’ work). From my perspective, it doesn’t matter how great Steve Jobs’ products are and that they have influenced millions of people. Once it was revealed that he had mistreated those who work in the very same building as him, any case for his good ethics goes out the window for me.
Conversely, Richard Stallman seems to be a great candidate for the “most ethical computing luminary” award. This is not to say that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are unethical–their time for discussion comes later in this post–but it appears that Stallman has made it his life’s work to encourage those principles discussed in the ACM Code of Ethics. For that reason, Stallman receives this award.
Now for another award: computing luminary who has had the most positive effect on the world.
I come from a long line of frequent NPR listeners. Over winter break, there was a particularly poignant segment by Michel Martin on the program All Things Considered that this week’s readings on philanthropy reminded me of (well, specifically, the article about Bill Gates was the one that spurred this memory). In her segment, Martin recalls a quote that an acquaintance once told her: “If money can fix it, it’s not a problem.” As I read about Gates and Zuckerberg, this thought continued to pop up. Clearly, both of these very powerful, smart, and incredibly wealthy men have money to spare, and we definitely have enough problems to go around. Obviously, there is no clear person to which Gates and Zuckerberg can address a check to improve the education systems in the United States, but it sure seems like billions of dollars should be able to fix something, right? According to Linsey McGoey, apparently not. For example, I got the impression that the money from the Gates Foundation being poured into creating small charter schools could have been much more effective had it been funneled into a fund that helps educate our teachers and improve existing school systems. I do, however, understand the need to experiment with new systems, but maybe not the whole $2 billion…. With that being said, Zuckerberg has put $100 million into the public school system in Newark, New Jersey, so he seems to be on the right track with that one.
And if Bill and Mark are reading this, which I’m pretty sure they are not, I hope they know that I really do see the good that they are both doing. The amount of money that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has put towards improving global health and development has done a tremendous amount of good. The statement made by the Zuckerbergs when they announced they were giving away 99% of their Facebook shares made a clear statement about what efforts they think money and energy should be focused on. Whether or not those billions of dollars end up resulting in the cure for cancer or the full empowerment of all people, the legacy that they are creating is truly significant.
I’m going to have to go with Bill Gates for the second award, based on the influence he has had thus far. Perhaps in five or ten years, Zuckerberg will have closed the gap a bit, but until then, Gates takes the prize.