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

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?

Two Books, Two Audiences

For my two books, I have two audiences in mind:

  • potential and current I/T architects, and
  • those who would hire them

For the I/T architect I will provide them a way of integrating business, economics and law into computing system designs. I will teach them a little about legal theory, contract theory and transaction cost economics in a concrete way they can incorporate into their models.  In the end, the I/T architecture will be in a better position to predict business impact than they have traditionally been.

For those who would hire the I/T architect, this will be a book recap a little business theory and the role of computer systems in relation to transaction economics.  Nothing new here, but the twist will be to educate that employer on how to discuss these important business issues with the I/T architect in a way that is mutually understandable for the both of them.  I will also introduce “I/T thinking” to the employer who hasn’t a clue.  There is a great cultural divide between the “business” and “technology” worlds which I believe can be breached by thinking in terms of concepts every human can relate to, that is the ethics of architecture.

The Ethical Context

My cousin Rebecca Littman is correct: too many topics in my book!  My colleague Bill Barr also has the same great criticism.  Indeed, there are several books I need to generate from this.

I am converging on many concrete theses, and of course, multiple books and articles which to focus on over time.  I will have to start at the philosophical level first however since there is where all of my axioms and other assumptions will be defined and described.

Perhaps my first book will be to satisfy the thesis of,

The case for the ethical context in I/T architecture

Ultimately, the “ethical context” is the source of the most valuable quality attributes which must be balanced in any architecture.  These qualities, amongst others, are the difference between profit and loss, legal and illegal, even life or death:

  • Epistemology, semantics and standards of proof
  • Contract and charter trees/privilege and responsibility
  • Profit and cost responsibility
  • Value in ex ante versus ex post consideration (short term versus long term thinking)
  • Information quality in principle-agent relationships
  • Transaction costs (in the generalized sense, borrowing from both economic and legal theory)
  • Game theory (prisoner’s dilemma, chicken, information cascades)
  • Cognitive illusion and fallacy (responsibility for truth)
  • Rules versus standards (responsibility to protect)
  • Statute, regulation and law
  • Collaboration, property, markets, efficiency, rent-seeking, regulatory capture: the industry context
  • Market suppression: the business context
  • Architectural governance as a set of ethical virtues

The Ethical Context

An interesting definition of ethics is the “art of cooperation”.  What I call an ethical context in architecture is a description of the way a particular culture solves their cooperative problems.  That culture may be corporate, regional or national.  Characterizing the ethical context has specific design considerations, such as:

  • Regulatory consideration
  • Security design (who has access to what, etc.)
  • Customer relations (what does the customer see, how they are invited to participate, etc.)
  • Consumption of “commons” (such as power and water)