The case of the killer robot

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The Case of the Killer Robot
written by Richard G. Epstein edited by Mike Melamed, Case, 1998 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------The Case of the Killer Robot is a detailed scenario that combines elements of software engineering and computer ethics. The scenario consists of fictitious articles that touch on specific issues in software engineering andcomputer ethics. The articles discuss programs such as programmer psychology, team dynamics, user interfaces, software process models, software testing, the nature of requirements, software theft, and privacy. A major consideration is "when is the software good enough?" The articles in the scenario begin with the indictment for manslaughter of a programmer who wrote faulty code that caused the deathof a robot operator. Slowly, over the course of many articles, students are introduced to factors within the software company that also contributed to the accident. They are shown software development as a social process. It is hoped that students will begin to realize the complexity of the task of building real-world software and to see some of the ethical issues intertwined in that complexity.This scenario is about 70 pages long and includes some tongue-in-cheek humor. The Case of the Killer Robot consists of seven newspaper articles, one journal article and one magazine interview. This scenario is intended to raise issues of computer ethics and software engineering. The people and institutions involved in this scenario are entirely fictitious (except for references to Carnegie Mellonand Purdue universities and to the venerable computer scientists Ben Shneiderman and Jim Foley). Silicon Valley was chosen as the location for the accident because it is an icon of high technology. All of the persons and institutions named in Silicon Valley are purely fictitious. The Cast of Characters -------------------------------------------------------------------------------• • • • • • • • •• • • Alex Allendale, Attorney, hired to defend Randy Samuels. Jan Anderson, Former programmer and analyst at Silicon Techtronics. She opposed the use of the waterfall model on the robot project and was fired for her honesty. Turina Babbage, President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). She announces an investigation by the ACM into violations of the ACM Code of Ethics by employeesat Silicon Techtronics. Robert Franklin, Reporter for the Silicon Valley Sentinel-Observer. He interviewed Professor Harry Yoder in order to see how an ethicist would view the developments in the killer robot case. The interview was published in the Sentinel-Observer's Sunday magazine. Horace Gritty, Professor of computer science and related concerns at Silicon Valley University. He sees poorinterface design as a primary cause of the killer robot tragedy. Sandra Henderson, Graduate student at Silicon Valley University. She assisted in an investigation into quality assurance procedures at Silicon Techtronics. Ray Johnson, Robotics division chief at Silicon Techtronics. He was driven by the division's need for a successful robot. Martha, Anonymous newspaper source. She is the insider atSilicon Techtronics who gave the Silicon Valley Sentinel-Observer information about the group dynamics on the Robbie CX30 robot project. Bart Matthews, Robot operator. A faulty computer program caused a Robbie CX30 robot to strike him dead. Roberta Matthews, Widow of Bart Matthews. Jane McMurdock, Prosecuting attorney for the city of Silicon Valley. She brought the manslaughter charges against RandySamuels. Mabel Muckraker, Reporter for the Silicon Valley Sentinel-Observer. She was put on the killer robot story because of her reputation as an effective investigative reporter.

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Bill Park, Professor of physics at Silicon Valley University. He confirmed that Randy Samuels misinterpreted the robot dynamics equations. Randy Samuels, Programmer. He wrote the...
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