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Richard Epstein
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Case of the Killer Robot


Author(s) Richard G. Epstein Mike Melamed

Richard G. Epstein, Westchester University of Pennsylvania
Mike Melamed, CWRU 2000

The Case of the Killer Robot is a detailed scenario that combines elements of software engineering and computer ethics.

The scenario consists of fictitious articles that touch on specific issues in software engineering and computer ethics. The articles discuss programs such as programmer psychology, team dynamics, user interfaces, software process models, software testing, the nature of requirements, software theft, and privacy. A major consideration is "when is the software good enough?"

The articles in the scenario begin with the indictment for manslaughter of a programmer who wrote faulty code that caused the death of a robot operator. Slowly, over the course of many articles, students are introduced to factors within the software company that also contributed to the accident. They are shown software development as a social process. It is hoped that students will begin to realize the complexity of the task of building real-world software and to see some of the ethical issues intertwined in that complexity.

This scenario is about 70 pages long and includes some tongue-in-cheek humor.

For permission see author information.

Contributor(s) Richard G. Epstein
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Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English
Page 11 / 11
ModifiedThursday, Jan 21, 2016 at 3:49 PM
Richard G. Epstein

Permission is granted to copy this material for use in classroom instruction at a college or university. This material may not be copied for any other purpose without express written permission of the author.

The following article provides the rationale behind the design of computer ethics scenarios such as this one and suggests how they can be used in other courses:

Epstein, Richard G. "The Use of Computer Ethics Scenarios in Software Engineering Education: The Case of the Killer Robot." Software Engineering Education: Proceedings of the7th SEI CSEE Conference, San Antonio. Ed. Jorge L. Diaz-Herrera. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 750. Springer-Verlag, 1994.

An expanded version of the Case of The Killer Robot can be found in Richard G. Epstein's book of the same name, published by John Wiley and Sons in 1996.

Cite this page: "Richard G. Epstein" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 2/16/2006 National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Friday, February 5, 2016 <>