Superheroes provide IT students with moral guidance

Wolverine, Superman, Captain America and Batman are taking up the fight to provide moral guidance to computer science students.

RMIT University business information technology lecturer John Lenarcic is using the superheroes and supervillians as modern parables to present the complexities of ethics to IT professionals in a clear and entertaining manner.

Lenarcic said computer ethics is a mandatory course requirement to become an accredited computer scientist or IT professional, but most students seem to find it boring and irrelevant.

"These superheroes will encourage students to explore their own responsibilities to society and the moral implications of the power they will wield as IT professionals. When Batman speaks, you listen!" Lenarcic said.

Leading this heroic crusade to counter the threat of a technological future devoid of morality, Lenarcic is equipped with allegorical content from contemporary superhero mythology.

"Superheroes, such as Wolverine, are seemingly invulnerable and can withstand pain, but if injured are capable of rapid self-repair - more like intelligent machines than human beings," he says. "Yet these living machines retain a moral purpose despite their powers." But could IT professionals be superheroes? Or maybe supervillains? The potential is there, according to Lenarcic, as modern computers allow users to function as a 'super entity'.

"As a heroic exoskeleton it can amplify and then extend humanity's capacity for altruistic action," he said. However, Lenarcic warns that "as a villainous prosthetic it can efficiently wreak havoc devoid of conscience, mirroring the mechanical arrogance of flawed creators."

"In his fictional genesis as a superhero, Spiderman realized that with great power comes great responsibility," he said.

"The same credo would apply to IT practitioners...or humble academics. We all have the capacity to use our wisdom in the noble spirit of superheroes even if we can't emulate their outlandish actions."

Lenarcic will outline his plans to save the IT world from dark forces at the Holy Men in Tights - Superheroes Conference to be held at the University of Melbourne from June 9 to 12, 2005.

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