The "ten commandments" of computer ethics get Taiwanese treatment

When Ramon Barquin presented a list of “ten commendments” for computer ethics in an ethics conference paper in Washington in 1991, he hoped that the text would become an effective code of ethics for the proper use of information technology.

Over the next 15 years, the text was translated into a dozen languages, including simplified Chinese for readers in communist China, but it was never translated into complex Chinese characters for readers in Taiwan. Until now.

You see, China and Taiwan are separated by more than the choppy waters of the Taiwan Strait. Mao Zedong decreed that China use a simplified writing system for its billions of people, and the system in place is called Simplified Chinese Characters. Taiwan, being a different country with a different history, still uses the traditional characters of the ancient Chinese writing system, and the characters used here are called, yes, Complex Chinese Characters.

Enter Jason Chang, a graduate student at Chung Cheng University in southern Taiwan, who volunteered to do turn the ten commandments into “real” Chinese for the U.S. website.

A second year student in the master’s progrram in the university’s department of medical information data management, Chang told TechEye that he had heard about the U.S. website that hosted various translations of the original text and volunteerde to send in a version in complex Chinese characters — which had been overlooked the previous 15 years — representing Taiwan.

The “ten commandments of computer ethics” were first presented in a paper written by Barquin, president of the Computer Ethics Institute in Washington and a former IBM executive who runs his own consulting firm.

Barquin, like most Westerners, was unaware that there was a difference between simplified Chinese and complex Chinese characters as used separately in Beijing and Taipei. But when he learned of the differences, Barquin said he would be happy to have someone in Taiwan add a separate translation for readers here.

Among the “commandments” listed by Barquin are: “Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Harm Other People”; “Thou Shalt Not Interfere With Other People’s Computer Work”; and “Thou Shalt Not Snoop Around In Other People’s Computer Files.”

Want more?

  • Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Steal
  • Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Bear False Witness
  • Thou Shalt Not Copy Or Use Proprietary Software For Which You Have Not Paid
  • Thou Shalt Not Use Other People’s Computer Resources Without Authorisation Or Compensation
  • Thou Shalt Not Appropriate Other People’s Intellectual Output
  • Thou Shalt Think About The Social Consequences Of The Program You Are Writing Or The System You Are Designing
  • Thou Shalt Always Use A Computer In Ways That Ensures Consideration And Respect For Your Fellow Humans

It’s not Moses. And we’re not atop Mt. Sinai. But Barquin’s words have travelled far and wide in a Babel of languages, and now they’ve come to Taiwan, too. Food for thought.

Is this ethics code for the IT era a good idea? “Thou Shalt Not Copy Or Use Proprietary Software For Which You Have Not Paid” is probably going to be around for a good long while, no?