Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Pledge of the Computing Professional

There is a movement afoot to form something known as The Pledge of the Computing Professional. There is a web site and an article appeared in the CACM Virtual Extension about it. I found the CACM blurb, followed it to the VE and then to my friend and colleague Anne Applin who is involved with developing the project. To quote Anne,

"The idea is fairly simple, to acknowledge that the computing professional has an obligation to use their specialized knowledge for the good of society and do no purposeful harm.  It's for every graduate, not just those with the best grades (UPE) or those who join ACM."

I had not heard of this idea before so off and running I was asking questions and digging for information. I learned that the idea of the Pledge came from the Order of the Engineer, which in turn was inspired by the Canadian "Ritual of the Calling of the Engineer" which in turn draws inspiration (as I see it) from organizations going back in time to the Middle Ages when apprentices were formally inducted into trade guilds; all manner of secret or exclusive societies developed.

In truth, one can go back even further to the Romans and the Greeks who had formal associations for various craftsmen (I suspect no women were involved but I defer to the historians among you to confirm that). Or perhaps earlier - the Freemasons have very early historical origins. To make sure we are not being Eurocentric note that there were similar organizations in early India and China.

These societies always embodied a practical and a mystical side. The mystical side imbued them with something special and sometimes secret, while the practical side conferred some obligation or responsibility. Upholding values and traditions of integrity and honesty - the Hippocratic Oath comes to mind.

So I wonder...if computer science is to follow in this tradition that may be as old as civilization there are clear areas for developing an ethical and moral stance. What would be the mystical side? What mystical properties does computer science embody?


  1. As one of the folks that has been working on the Pledge of the Computing Professional I can say that while this specific thing has not come up in the discussions, I suspect we are all descendants of the Pythagoreans. It is clear from the order in the universe that God is a mathematician and by extension a Computer Scientist else how explain the quantum characteristics of the universe?

  2. A video of the inaugural Pledge Ceremony held at Ohio Northern University in May 2011 is now available on YouTube at:

  3. Hi John,

    Thank you for posting that video. It does an excellent job of demonstrating what the Pledge is about - there is a nice history, context and explanation of purpose. Watching those 18 new graduates take part in the ceremony was very nice.

  4. It does seem like a wonderful cause. I wish you guys the best of luck. And lisa, I follow your blog regularly, thanks for keeping us updated on social matters.