Programmer repents for creating code designed to cheat teen girls

Earlier last week, a post written by Canadian programmer and teacher Bill Sourour went viral. It’s called “Code I’m Still Ashamed Of.” After viewing a talk by Robert Martin, called “The Future of Programming,” Sourour was inspired to write the post. Martin is a famous-in-his-world programmer and speaker better known as “Uncle Bob.”

Sourour explained how he was asked to build a website for a pharmaceutical company, where he was fooled into helping it dodge drug advertising laws to convince young women to take a particular drug.

According to Sourour, he was asked to create an informational site for a type of illness whose treatment was aimed at teenage girls. His creation: a quiz in which the only result was that the girl should take the client’s drug.

He discovered the drug was known to worsen depression and that at least one woman committed suicide while taking it. He found out that even his own 19-year-old sister had been taking the drug and warned her off it.

Decades later, he still feels guilty about it, he told Business Insider.

“I wish I could tell you that it felt wrong to code something that was basically designed to trick young girls,” he writes. “But the truth is, I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had a job to do, and I did it.”

Sourour is not the only programmer who is still plagued with guilt. Sourour’s post which went viral on Hacker News and Reddit, also had other programmers share their unethical and illegal things they have been asked to do.

It turns out that a long list of Reddit users, having read Sourour’s story, had also created something they were ashamed of. They included programmers asked to violate laws and endanger people, among other things.

Suorour believes that we are at a turning point in which the ethics has to be taken very seriously. He reckons one day soon, artificial intelligence-driven machines might be giving us our prescriptions.

Even though Sourour walked out of his job after hearing about the suicide, a machine surely won’t be programmed with the same ethics.

Sourour thinks education is important. “Unfortunately, many of today’s software developers are self-taught or are learning through so-called ‘coding bootcamps,'” says Sourour.

“These rarely, if ever, include any kind of ethics training. The focus is on pumping out people who can write code as fast as possible to satisfy a growing and insatiable market for coding skills,” he adds.

Sourour believes that online training sites or coding boot camps should “start talking about the ethical responsibilities that come along with writing code.”

Source: Business Insider

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