Ability and Responsibility

21 November 2007

The following three events triggered some (probably still incomplete) thoughts on my behalf:
  1. A few weeks ago I had a discussion with a friend about whether I would write software for military projects or the like. I told him unmistakably that I wouldn't engage in such work, even if it would be at the cost of giving up my job.

  2. Last week then, I read Kent Beck's new book called Implementation Patterns. While reading it, a passage caught my attention in which he - in one breath - associates coding with responsibility.

  3. Today finally, I read a blog post which partially records a talk given by ThoughtWorks founder Roy Singham. In a similar way to the above, Roy defines his position relating to coding, morality and military projects.

A number of other people in this world including me have been very lucky, because we were allowed to grow up in a safe and developed environment. We have been fortunate enough to go to university and learn about many things from previous generations. We have been given lots of time, support, options and opportunities. Moreover, it seems like we've also been given the choice to decide what to do with all these gifts.

So, what do we do with all of them? I believe that we can indeed leverage them to do really, really good things, such as making people's lives better who haven't been as lucky as we've been. At the same time, we could likewise misuse those gifts to do an awful lot of damage. Think about it: surely it wasn't somebody who didn't know how to read who invented the most sophisticated and deadly weapons of mass destruction; surely it wasn't somebody who didn't know anything about higher mathematics who designed and created the latest ultra precise killing high-tech military weaponry. I'm sure you can think of many more examples.

What I'm trying to say is that many of us have been given extraordinary gifts that can be used to achieve extraordinary things. In both ways, good or bad. The higher our abilities, the bigger the effect we can have on our environment. I think that based on solid moral grounds using these gifts in a good way is in fact not a choice, it's a responsibility.