Bioethics Blogs

Usable ethics: user design and ethics

by Anders Sandberg and Ben Levinstein

Over the past week we have been subsumed by the intense, final work phase just before the deadline of a big, complex report. The profanity-density has been high, mostly aimed at Google, Microsoft and Apple. Not all of it was deserved, but it brought home the issue that designing software carries moral implications.

Death from a thousand paper cuts

Time is a non-renewable resource.

Larry Kenyon was the engineer working on the disk driver and file system. Steve came into his cubicle and started to exhort him. “The Macintosh boots too slowly. You’ve got to make it faster!”

Larry started to explain about some of the places where he thought that he could improve things, but Steve wasn’t interested. He continued, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it. How many people are going to be using the Macintosh? A million? No, more than that. In a few years, I bet five million people will be booting up their Macintoshes at least once a day.”

“Well, let’s say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and that’s 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that’s probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you’ve saved a dozen lives. That’s really worth it, don’t you think?”
[Andy Hertzfeld]

Today there are more than three billion internet users.

If each loses one second per day due to slow software, that is 95 years per day.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.