Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Considerations for Computer Science: Curator Ethics

Ethics plays a ruling hand in most daily activities. People subconsciously perform tasks that are of greater benefit to a party besides themselves, even if said party is a pet being properly fed, or a plant being consistently nourished with water. Once individuals carve out their own identities through experience with corporate entities however, their actions are no longer limited to minor consequences. They have moral obligations to satisfy the majority amount of people possible without inflicting harm upon others. This universal rule is no different in the field of computer science (and for specificity, the task of a curator). 

A Digital Atmosphere of Influence, Image Source

Curator is a term that colloquially refers to an overseer of an institution, such as that of a library or museum. In the world of computer science, the term curator equates to a data clerk whose primary objective is to gather and organize information. The practice can be narrowed down into a keeper for a non-profit digital library designed to salvage and seek information about the web, existing publications, and media as a form of documentation. There are many dimensions to the hierarchy of such an organization, and would proceed in the order of most influential to least: founders/co-founders of organization and donors/sponsors, employees of the main branch, preservationists, and then the data-crunching employees.

This documentation provides deeper insights into daily applications, such as tracking consumer patterns or website traffic activity. Curating actually meets two clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations: #19. Freedom of Expression and #26 The Right to Education. People reserve the right to archive all aspects of the human condition and teach others about a history that will retain its relevance in modern times. In addition to acting as a human footprint and how our behaviors have evolved over time, gathered data also serves a practical use. Based on a court ruling made in 2016, curated databases such as the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine qualify as legitimate evidence that others can use to testify in court. As such, it is vital that curators perform their civil duties properly and ensure the integrity of the information being preserved. 

The Arts of Charts, Image Source

For brevity, the following section will focus on the ethical duties of a data cruncher. A data cruncher must be 

  • Vigilant: A data analyst must understand what context/uses if any the audience will use the gathered data for. The analyst often needs to personally decide what type of data to prioritize gathering and structuring.
  • A Troubleshooter: Once data analysts have created their systems, and mapped out the gathered information, the onus is on them to test their system for errors, and to correct mistakes efficiently. 
  • Law-abiding: While data analysts are rightfully driven to divulge as much information as possible to the public, analysts still need to abide by copyright rules and budget limitations 
  • Resourceful: New connections are always a must to the organization, so employees must build positive relations with other organizations or publication holders. 
  • Innovative: The data cruncher must devise new and evolving methods to preserve "new age" data, such as that of audio files, 3D files/set designs, et cetera. 
  • Humane: Even though this field work results in typically more time spent with computers than humans, participants of this field should ensure the welfare of those in immediate reach, especially if the data analysts are overseers/placed into a leadership position. 

Sometimes, using Amazon produces reactions miles away from a smile, Image Source

Negligible errors can leave clients disoriented and frustrated. While not necessarily related to public libraries, the case study of Amazon's S3 silent data corruption led much to be desired. Between the time frame of 2008-2009, users of the Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) experienced loss/corruption of items within their digital library. Though a recommended fix came in the form of mapping out the data's fingerprints before and after placing them into the storage unit, some were disgruntled with Amazon's unprofessional handling of the case. People argued that the company should have been accountable for solving its own problem, as well as maximizing the efficiency of their service. Amazon was even called out for not being on the same level of its competitor Sun Microsystems, their file service ZFS, and its ability to ensure data integrity. 

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  1. This blog was very informative and went into great detail on what ethics means. I really liked how you used the example of ethics being a subconscious action to people. That example really gave me a better outlook of what ethical responsibilities really meant. I also really liked how you explained all the responsibilities of data cruncher. It gives me an image of the everyday life responsibilities that a number cruncher must face. As a student pursuing the career of a civil engineer, i can connect with some of a number cruncher's ethical responsibilities. As a civil engineer i must also design buildings and bridges that are innovative. If I were to bring up design already created, it would not do me any benefit in progressing in my career. A civil engineer has to also be vigilante of what documentary he/she accepts for the project design. Skimming through documents is very dangerous not only to the function of the project, but to the people who later have to work in the building. A simple miscalculation can create a tragical accident. An engineers decision on a project is not simply just a decision, it can also mean the lives of many citizens Overall i found this blog very interesting and informative.

    1. Thank you for your input for my blog! I sincerely apologize that I was not able to get to your comment sooner nor reply to your blog as punctual as I would have liked to. I appreciate your comments of seeing the importance of a number cruncher. Number crunchers don't typically strike others unfamiliar with the field as people that have much to look after. To the common folk, number crunching is the equivalent of mindlessly sitting in front of a computer. Number crunchers, much like civil engineers, have to scrutinize their work and confirm the data's legitimacy. I wholeheartedly concur with your statement that "An engineer's decision on a project is not simply a decision; it can also affect the lives of many citizens" -Anthony Trujillo, 2017. It is crucial for anybody in the workforce to understand the gravity of their role, and how neglecting their task can lead to dire consequences.