A miracle that rings a Bell

A well-known concept in ethics is the theory of “ethical egoism”, which has as its core concept the belief that altruism doesn’t exist, and help is given only in case of mutually beneficial outcomes. One can thus easily see how the tech world is plagued by this very concept.

If we talk about tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, the rivalries between them are unsurprising. Many are also familiar with the concept of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and may have heard stories about Microsoft and Apple partnering up to block Google, or Microsoft and Google teaming up to block someone else and so on. That would be a typical example of ethical egoism: the only time these companies collaborate instead of blocking eachother, is to get rid of a third threat.

However, thankfully, not all companies, and not all software developers think this way. The Open Source community is fairly large and upholds the ideas that collaboration benefits the greater good. While form one viewpoint, this still fits the beneficial outcome, the reward is not personal, and therefore does not fall under the egoism umbrella.

Perhaps the most important counter-example to ethical egoism in the tech world is what took place in Bell Labs in the 1970s: the birth of UNIX and C. At the time, Dennis Ritchie, Brian Kenighan, Ken Thompson and the likes were not interested in creating something for themselves: their goal was to change the world of computers.

Sure, a skeptic would say “they were paid well”, and while I do not have any details on the monetary benefits they gained from their creations and research, I viewew them as an additional benefit that they fully deserved. After all, what they designed and created is still the foundation of current-day operating systems, and they didn’t pull a Microsoft move nor become something of a Bill Gates.

In summary, ethical egoism is very present in the modern tech world, and the bigger a company or product, the stronger that mentality becomes. Luckily it hasn’t always been this way, and there are still advocates of altruism and open source who consider the greater good to be benefit enough for themselves, to not fall into what is essentially a hate-motivated model. Since let’s be fair, as collaboration strips personal merits, the major “collaboration” done by egoists is only to screw someone else over, their egos being too big to create something with others.