Some References for “Architecture Ethics”

I am waiting to obtain some consensus from my IASA peers with regard to the course outline.  Until then, I will talk obliquely about the content as it seems to be shaping up.  For now, let me give you a list of some of the references I will include these below.  I will also include references to some of the other classics, like Aristotle, Plato, Kant, and Hume, but here are some interesting readings from modern times.

Architecture Ethics

I am now developing an online course on “Architecture Ethics” for IASA.  Currently, I have defined the course objectives as follows.  The target audience are information technology architects and architects-in-training, primarily in North America and Europe although I hope that Asian students will also find it informative.  (My recent experience in China has provided me with a number of good examples for all students.)

My current introduction:

What do Love Canal and Barclays have in common?  In these very public cases, improper ethical planning arguably encouraged opportunities for immoral action.  As a professional architect you are in a position of leadership and trust, and are responsible for the ethical implications of your decisions and the morality of your actions.  You are responsible for the ethical planning of your daily work and long term career including the proper selection of projects, the identification of collaborative environments that can enable or hinder success, avoiding moral risks to employer and customer, meeting the challenges of regulatory and legal frameworks, and even for the determination of proper compensation for your effort and risks.  This course will introduce you to concrete skills that will help you recognize potential ethical failures in the practice of computing-associated architecture, strategies to mitigate or otherwise compensate for those failures, and ultimately, simply put, how to architect well.

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Identify some of your highest risk factors to project and career success, and strategies to counter them.
  • Identify financial impacts of ethical decision making in architecture.
  • Identify and communicate additional ethical considerations for your particular community, industry, employer, and job.
  • Effectively communicate the value of professional architecture.
  • Develop an ethical context, or “Collaborative Viewpoint” for your Architecture Description.
  • Understand why the ethical context is the proper frame within which you should understand everything you do as a professional architect, and why IASA exists.

Target audience:

  • Information technology architects, solution architects, and enterprise architects
  • Students training for a career in computing-associated architecture
  • Potential employers and clients of computing-associated architects

Redesigning PLC Development

For 18 months, I had been buried in the PLC (industrial controls) world.

My original mission was to “rethink” the approach to PLC software application development because the state of the art of these systems is perceived as dismal.  PLC systems are seen as infested with bugs, or difficult to document, difficult to maintain, difficult to expand, or some painful combination thereof.  PLC culture has encouraged “one-off” application development, disregard for re-use, disregard for team-development, and tends to be ignorant of or eschew automation in testing and debugging methods.  PLC development culture has not demanded the integration of the advances in software engineering from the past 20 years or so, both in terms of tools and technique.  It is amazing, for instance, how many PLC developers are ignorant of the concept of unit testing or even source code revision control.  The lack of this demand may stem from the intellectual insularity of the culture and innocent ignorance.

My original mission was to overcome the downside risks of the usual PLC development culture and create a new culture, a new development methodology, and new infrastructure that could bypass the usual shortcomings and help us create applications of higher quality than had been expected to date.  The implementation of this mission however is expensive and fraught with risk (e.g., time-to-completion risk), mostly because of the dismal quality of vendor-supplied tools that PLC developers have no choice but to use.  These risks were known from the beginning.  The check-writer’s tolerance for such risks were not known for sure however, only what they said they could tolerate was known.  The spoken and actual tolerance for risk turned out to be very different after all.  No one has been surprised.

Technological Unemployment, the Architecture Profession, and My Worth as an Author

I believe Michael Ferguson‘s analysis about the future, jobs, and technological unemployment is essentially correct,

Technology is automating more and more jobs.  We software-oriented architects are the “grunts” that are helping to usher this process along.  Indeed, we are working to automate ourselves out of traditional employment.  We have been creating conditions which favor permanent entrepreneurship for every one of us, and which do not favor traditional employment for any of us.

From a Coasean economics perspective, information technology is helping to reduce general transaction costs worldwide such that transaction costs internal to firms and external to them are approaching parity.  In other words, it is increasingly nonsensical for any company to bother hiring employees.  This does not mean however, that companies do not need people, nor does it mean that future consumers do not need the products of your hard work!  Read Michael’s article for his detailed analysis of this phenomenon.

How can I write a book on a “theory of I/T architecture”, of the philosophy and science of I/T architecture, without addressing this trend?  I can’t.  I need to discuss where we have been as professionals, where we are, and where were are going.  I must play the futurist and make predictions.  Of course, some of my predictions will be shown to have been correct over time, some wrong, but stick my neck out I must!  There is no way I can write such a book, sit on the side lines, and simply throw up my arms and say, “I have no idea what to do next.”  If I am not attempting to help my readers make critical decisions about their personal futures, then what good would I be as an author?  Why should you bother to read what I have to write?

Freeman Dyson Responds

I erred with respect to Professor Freeman Dyson’s involvement with quantum electrodynamics (QED) and with respect to a quote I had previously included by him (  I had a hunch I was getting something wrong, so I wrote Professor Dyson to ask for clarification.  His response,

Thank you for asking whether I agree with your statement. The answer is no. I do not agree, because I was talking about mathematicians and not about physicists. Dirac and Bethe were dealing with quite different problems. They were not concerned with architecture. They were inventing a physical theory. I was using their theory and finding the architecture to tidy up the mathematical details. Yours sincerely, Freeman Dyson.

Of course, it is good to understand Dyson’s role with regard to QED a little more clearly.  Second it is, of course, interesting to see his perspective on his role as “architect”.  Last, but not least, it made my day to receive a response from a hero of mine!

Thank you, Professor Dyson!

Architecture: the Normative Art

Architecture is the normative art.

To be normative is to occupy the “ought” side of David Hume’s is-ought divide.  A positivist, focusing on what is, has no rational method for arriving at what ought to be.  In ethics, for instance, the positivist can document the evidence for the existence of murder throughout human history but can they arrive, through purely descriptive and deductive means, to the conclusion that murder is unjustified?  What is justice?

To describe an “ought” is to architect.  Regardless of the problem domain and placing the concept of professionalism aside, the architect is the person who ultimately makes the very human decision of what to value and what is “good” in design.  Though the concept of architecture is, and should be, associated with the act of creation, adherence to ideals, models, standards and virtues have always been the defining aspect of architecture.

To live an ethical life the individual must relate to human ideals, virtues and associated (measurable) standards. It also requires the ethicist to have identified and communicated those virtues — usually by identifying standards which people can relate to — and to have defined principles and rules for adhering to those virtues. The ethicist, in human affairs, is a “cultural architect”.

Each of us in the United States are taught to value the virtues of our Constitution. We expect those in power to embody those virtues described within that document.  Our best measure of that embodiment is the degree to which we notice those in power upholding the principles and rules also described therein. We rightfully consider James Madison the “chief architect” of the United States since he was the critical agent who determined the virtues, or qualities, which would make a good country and then designed the legal structure (principle and rules) which would best institutionalize those virtues.  The U.S. Constitution is the architectural description for the United States.

The physicist Freeman Dyson once said,

The bottom line for mathematicians is that the architecture has to be right. In all the mathematics that I did, the essential point was to find the right architecture. It’s like building a bridge. Once the main lines of the structure are right, then the details miraculously fit. The problem is the overall design. [iWise,, retrieved 2011-06-01]

What did Freeman Dyson mean by “right”?  Mathematics is essentially a deductive/positivist/descriptive exercise.  I have seen some physicists waste their lives in cherished theory which “penciled”, “made sense”, “without mistake”, “was going to overturn Einstein” and all that, yet never predicted new phenomena let alone reproduced the values of known phenomena.  The problem with the life work of these people was never their math, which was deductively correct, but the initial set of axioms the they chose as valuable.  Freeman Dyson, in my opinion, was referring to the “right” choice of axiom and basic principle with regard to the “architecture” of a scientific theory that works.  Once must choose axioms which help the theorist conform to experimental reality, or not.  The choice of initial axiom is not a deductive exercise however, but an inductive choice of “ought”.  Those whose life’s work leads to naught chose wrong.  For Freeman Dyson’s part however he, along with Paul Dirac, Hans Bethe, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, Julian Schwinger, and Richard Feynman are properly known as the architects of quantum electrodynamics (QED).  They came to be the architects through their identification of axiom and principle which not only enabled the development of a cohesive set of mathematics, but also led them to conform, par excellence, to real world experiment.  In short, they identified the “oughts” of QED.  They chose well.

Regardless of the problem domain, the architect is always that person who breaches the is-ought divide.

Important update from Professor Dyson, here