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WHAT IS COMPUTER ETHICS?

*
JAMES H. MOOR
A PROPOSED DEFINITION
Computers are special technology and they raise some special
ethical issues. In this essay I will discuss what makes computers
different from other technology and how this difference makes a
difference in ethical considerations. In particular, I want to
characterize computer ethics and show why this emerging field is
both intellectually interesting and enormously important.
On my view, computer ethics is the analysis of the nature and social
impact of computer technology and the corresponding formulation
and justification of policies for the ethical use of such technology. I
use the phrase "computer technology" because I take the subject
matter of the field broadly to include computers and associated
technology. For instance, I include concerns about software as well
as hardware and concerns about networks connecting computers as
well as computers themselves.
A typical problem in computer ethics arises because there is a policy
vacuum about how computer technology should be used.
Computers provide us with new capabilities and these in turn give
us new choices for action. Often, either no policies for conduct in
these situations exist or existing policies seem inadequate. A central
task of computer ethics is to determine what we should do in such
cases, i.e., to formulate policies to guide our actions. Of course,
some ethical situations confront us as individuals and some as a
society. Computer ethics includes consideration of both personal
and social policies for the ethical use of computer technology.
Now it may seem that all that needs to be done is the mechanical
application of an ethical theory to generate the appropriate policy.
But this is usually not possible. A difficulty is that along with a
policy vacuum there is often a conceptual vacuum. Although a
problem in computer ethics may seem clear initially, a little
reflection reveals a conceptual muddle. What is needed in such
cases is an analysis which provides a coherent conceptual
framework within which to formulate a policy for action. Indeed,
much of the important work in computer ethics is devoted to
proposing conceptual frameworks for understanding ethical
problems involving computer technology.
An example may help to clarify the kind of conceptual work that is
required. Let's suppose we are trying to formulate a policy for
protecting computer programs. Initially, the idea may seem clear
enough. We are looking for a policy for protecting a kind of
intellectual property. But then a number of questions which do not
have obvious answers emerge. What is a computer program? Is it
really intellectual property which can be owned or is it more like an
idea, an algorithm, which is not owned by anybody? If a computer
program is intellectual property, is it an expression of an idea that is
owned (traditionally protectable by copyright) or is it a process that
is owned (traditionally protectable by patent)? Is a machine-readable
program a copy of a human-readable program? Clearly, we need a
conceptualization of the nature of a computer program in order to
answer these kinds of questions. Moreover, these questions must be
answered in order to formulate a useful policy for protecting
computer programs. Notice that the conceptualization we pick will
not only affect how a policy will be applied but to a certain extent
what the facts are. For instance, in this case the conceptualization
will determine when programs count as instances of the same
program.
Even within a coherent conceptual framework, the formulation of a
policy for using computer technology can be difficult. As we
consider different policies we discover something about what we
value and what we don't. Because computer technology provides us
with new possibilities for acting, new values emerge. For example,
creating software has value in our culture which it didn't have a few
decades ago. And old values have to be reconsidered. For instance,
assuming software is intellectual property, why should intellectual
property be protected? In general, the consideration of alternative
policies forces us to discover and make explicit what our value
preferences are.
The mark of a basic problem in computer ethics is one in which
computer technology is essentially involved and there is an
uncertainty about what to do and even about how to understand
the situation. Hence, not all ethical situations involving computers
are central to computer ethics. If a burglar steals available office
equipment including computers, then the burglar has done
something legally and ethically wrong. But this is really an issue for
general law and ethics. Computers are only accidently involved in
this situation, and there is no policy or conceptual vacuum to fill.
The situation and the applicable policy are clear.
In one sense I am arguing for the special status of computer ethics
as a field of study. Applied ethics is not simply ethics applied. But, I
also wish to stress the underlying importance of general ethics and
science to computer ethics. Ethical theory provides categories and
procedures for determining what is ethically relevant. For example,
what kinds of things are good? What are our basic rights? What is
an impartial point of view? These considerations are essential in
comparing and justifying policies for ethical conduct. Similarly,
scientific information is crucial in ethical evaluations. It is amazing
how many times ethical disputes turn not on disagreements about
values but on disagreements about facts.
On my view, computer ethics is a dynamic and complex field of
study which considers the relationships among facts,
conceptualizations, policies and values with regard to constantly
changing computer technology. Computer ethics is not a fixed set
of rules which one shellacs and hangs on the wall. Nor is computer
ethics the rote application of ethical principles to a value-free
technology. Computer ethics requires us to think anew about the
nature of computer technology and our values. Although computer
ethics is a field between science and ethics and depends on them, it
is also a discipline in its own right which provides both
conceptualizations for understanding and policies for using
computer technology.
Though I have indicated some of the intellectually interesting
features of computer ethics, I have not said much about the
problems of the field or about its practical importance. The only
example I have used so far is the issue of protecting computer
programs which may seem to be a very narrow concern. In fact, I
believe the domain of computer ethics is quite large and extends to
issues which affect all of us. Now I want to turn to a consideration
of these issues and argue for the practical importance of computer
ethics. I will proceed not by giving a list of problems but rather by
analyzing the conditions and forces which generate ethical issues
about computer technology. In particular, I want to analyze what is
special about computers, what social impact computers will have,
and what is operationally suspect about computing technology. I
hope to show something of the nature of computer ethics by doing
some computer ethics.
THE REVOLUTIONARY MACHINE
What is special about computers? It is often said that a Computer
Revolution is taking place, but what is it about computers that
makes them revolutionary? One difficulty in assessing the
revolutionary nature of computers is that the word "revolutionary"
has been devalued. Even minor technological improvements are
heralded as revolutionary. A manufacturer of a new dripless pouring
spout may well promote it as revolutionary. If minor technological
improvements are revolutionary, then undoubtedly everchanging
computer technology is revolutionary. The interesting issue, of
course, is whether there is some nontrivial sense in which computers
are revolutionary. What makes computer technology importantly
different from other technology? Is there any real basis for
comparing the Computer Revolution with the Industrial Revolution?
If we look around for features that make computers revolutionary,
several features suggest themselves. For example, in our society
computers are affordable and abundant. It is not much of an
exaggeration to say that currently in our society every major
business, factory, school, bank, and hospital is rushing to utilize
computer technology. Millions of personal computers are being sold
for home use. Moreover, computers are integral parts of products
which don't look much like computers such as watches and
automobiles. Computers are abundant and inexpensive, but so are
pencils. Mere abundance and affordability don't seem sufficient to
justify any claim to technological revolution.
One might claim the newness of computers makes them
revolutionary. Such a thesis requires qualification. Electronic digital
computers have been around for forty years. In fact, if the abacus
counts as a computer, then computer technology is among the
oldest technologies. A better way to state this claim is that recent
engineering advances in computers make them revolutionary.
Obviously, computers have been immensely improved over the last
forty years. Along with dramatic increases in computer speed and
memory there have been dramatic decreases in computer size.
Computer manufacturers are quick to point out that desk top
computers today exceed the engineering specifications of
computers which filled rooms only a few decades ago. There has
been also a determined effort by companies to make computer
hardware and computer software easier to use. Computers may not
be completely user friendly but at least they are much less
unfriendly. However, as important as these features are, they don't
seem to get to the heart of the Computer Revolution. Small, fast,
powerful and easy-to-use electric can openers are great
improvements over earlier can openers, but they aren't in the
relevant sense revolutionary.
Of course, it is important that computers are abundant, less
expensive, smaller, faster, and more powerful and friendly. But, these
features serve as enabling conditions for the spread of the
Computer Revolution. The essence of the Computer Revolution is
found in the nature of a computer itself. What is revolutionary
about computers is logical malleability. Computers are logically
malleable in that they can be shaped and molded to do any activity
that can be characterized in terms of inputs, outputs, and
connecting logical operations. Logical operations are the precisely
defined steps which take a computer from one state to the next.
The logic of computers can be massaged and shaped in endless
ways through changes in hardware and software. Just as the power
of a steam engine was a raw resource of the Industrial Revolution
so the logic of a computer is a raw resource of the Computer
Revolution. Because logic applies everywhere, the potential
applications of computer technology appear limitless. The computer
is the nearest thing we have to a universal tool. Indeed, the limits of
computers are largely the limits of our own creativity. The driving
question of the Computer Revolution is "How can we mold the logic
of computers to better serve our purposes?"
I think logical malleability explains the already widespread
application of computers and hints at the enormous impact
computers are destined to have. Understanding the logical
malleability of computers is essential to understanding the power of
the developing technological revolution. Understanding logical
malleability is also important in setting policies for the use of
computers. Other ways of conceiving computers serve less well as a
basis for formulating and justifying policies for action.
Consider an alternative and popular conception of computers in
which computers are understood as number crunchers, i.e.,
essentially as numerical devices. On this conception computers are
nothing but big calculators. It might be maintained on this view that
mathematical and scientific applications should take precedence
over nonnumerical applications such as word processing. My
position, on the contrary, is that computers are logically malleable.
The arithmetic interpretation is certainly a correct one, but it is only
one among many interpretations. Logical malleability has both a
syntactic and a semantic dimension. Syntactically, the logic of
computers is malleable in terms of the number and variety of
possible states and operations. Semantically, the logic of computers
is malleable in that the states of the computer can be taken to
represent anything. Computers manipulate symbols but they don't
care what the symbols represent. Thus, there is no ontological basis
for giving preference to numerical applications over nonnumerical
applications.
The fact that computers can be described in mathematical language,
even at a very low level, doesn't make them essentially numerical.
For example, machine language is conveniently and traditionally
expressed in 0's and l's. But the 0's and l's simply designate different
physical states. We could label these states as "on" and "off" or
"yin" and "yang" and apply binary logic. Obviously, at some levels it
is useful to use mathematical notation to describe computer
operations, and it is reasonable to use it. The mistake is to reify the
mathematical notation as the essence of a computer and then use
this conception to make judgments about the appropriate use of
computers.
In general, our conceptions of computer technology will affect our
policies for using it. I believe the importance of properly conceiving
the nature and impact of computer technology will increase as the
Computer Revolution unfolds.
ANATOMY OF THE COMPUTER REVOLUTION
Because the Computer Revolution is in progress, it is difficult to get
a perspective on its development. By looking at the Industrial
Revolution I believe we can get some insight into the nature of a
technological revolution. Roughly, the Industrial Revolution in
England occurred in two major stages. The first stage was the
technological introduction stage which took place during the last
half of the Eighteenth Century. During this stage inventions and
processes were introduced, tested, and improved. There was an
industrialization of limited segments of the economy, particularly in
agriculture and textiles. The second stage was the technological
permeation stage which took place during the Nineteenth Century.
As factory work increased and the populations of cities swelled, not
only did well known social evils emerge, but equally significantly
corresponding changes in human activities and institutions, ranging
from labor unions to health services, occurred. The forces of
industrialization dramatically transformed the society.
My conjecture is that the Computer Revolution will follow a similar
two stage development. The first stage, the introduction stage, has
been occurring during the last forty years. Electronic computers
have been created and refined. We are gradually entering the
second stage, the permeation stage, in which computer technology
will become an integral part of institutions throughout our society. I
think that in the coming decades many human activities and social
institutions will be transformed by computer technology and that
this transforming effect of computerization will raise a wide range of
issues for computer ethics.
What I mean by "transformed" is that the basic nature or purpose of
an activity or institution is changed. This is marked by the kinds of
questions that are asked. During the introduction stage computers
are understood as tools for doing standard jobs. A typical question
for this stage is "How well does a computer do such and such an
activity?" Later, during the permeation stage, computers become an
integral part of the activity. A typical question for this stage is "What
is the nature and value of such and such an activity?" In our society
there is already some evidence of the transforming effect of
computerization as marked by the kind of questions being asked.
For example, for years computers have been used to count votes.
Now the election process is becoming highly computerized.
Computers can be used to count votes and to make projections
about the outcome. Television networks use computers both to
determine quickly who is winning and to display the results in a
technologically impressive manner. During the last presidential
election in the United States [1984] the television networks
projected the results not only before the polls in California were
closed but also before the polls in New York were closed. In fact,
voting was still going on in over half the states when the winner
was announced. The question is no longer "How efficiently do
computers count votes in a fair election?" but "What is a fair
election?" Is it appropriate that some people know the outcome
before they vote? The problem is that computers not only tabulate
the votes for each candidate but likely influence the number and
distribution of these votes. For better or worse, our electoral process
is being transformed.
As computers permeate more and more of our society, I think we
will see more and more of the transforming effect of computers on
our basic institutions and practices. Nobody can know for sure how
our computerized society will look fifty years from now, but it is
reasonable to think that various aspects of our daily work will be
transformed. Computers have been used for years by businesses to
expedite routine work, such as calculating payrolls; but as personal
computers become widespread and allow executives to work at
home, and as robots do more and more factory work, the emerging
question will be not merely "How well do computers help us work?"
but "What is the nature of this work?"
Traditional work may no longer be defined as something that
normally happens at a specific time or a specific place. Work for us
may become less doing a job than instructing a computer to do a
job. As the concept of work begins to change, the values associated
with the old concept will have to be reexamined. Executives who
work at a computer terminal at home will lose some spontaneous
interaction with colleagues. Factory workers who direct robots by
pressing buttons may take less pride in a finished product. And
similar effects can be expected in other types of work. Commercial
pilots who watch computers fly their planes may find their jobs to
be different from what they expected.
A further example of the transforming effect of computer
technology is found in financial institutions. As the transfer and
storage of funds becomes increasingly computerized the question
will be not merely "How well do computers count money?" but
"What is money?" For instance, in a cashless society in which debits
are made to one's account electronically at the point of sale, has
money disappeared in favor of computer records or have electronic
impulses become money? What opportunities and values are lost or
gained when money becomes intangible?
Still another likely area for the transforming effect of computers is
education. Currently, educational packages for computers are rather
limited. Now it is quite proper to ask "How well do computers
educate?" But as teachers and students exchange more and more
information indirectly via computer networks and as computers take
over more routine instructional activities, the question will inevitably
switch to "What is education?" The values associated with the
traditional way of educating will be challenged. How much human
contact is necessary or desirable for learning? What is education
when computers do the teaching?
The point of this futuristic discussion is to suggest the likely impact
of computer technology. Though I don't know what the details will
be, I believe the kind of transformation I am suggesting is likely to
occur. This is all I need to support my argument for the practical
importance of computer ethics. In brief, the argument is as follows:
The revolutionary feature of computers is their logical malleability.
Logical malleability assures the enormous application of computer
technology. This will bring about the Computer Revolution. During
the Computer Revolution many of our human activities and social
institutions will be transformed. These transformations will leave us
with policy and conceptual vacuums about how to use computer
technology. Such policy and conceptual vacuums are the marks of
basic problems within computer ethics. Therefore, computer ethics is
a field of substantial practical importance.
I find this argument for the practical value of computer ethics
convincing. I think it shows that computer ethics is likely to have
increasing application in our society. This argument does rest on a
vision of the Computer Revolution which not everyone may share.
Therefore, I will turn to another argument for the practical
importance of computer ethics which doesn't depend upon any
particular view of the Computer Revolution. This argument rests on
the invisibility factor and suggests a number of ethical issues
confronting computer ethics now.
THE INVISIBILITY FACTOR
There is an important fact about computers. Most of the time and
under most conditions computer operations are invisible. One may
be quite knowledgeable about the inputs and outputs of a
computer and only dimly aware of the internal processing. This
invisibility factor often generates policy vacuums about how to use
computer technology. Here I will mention three kinds of invisibility
which can have ethical significance.
The most obvious kind of invisibility which has ethical significance is
invisible abuse. Invisible abuse is the intentional use of the invisible
operations of a computer to engage in unethical conduct. A classic
example of this is the case of a programmer who realized he could
steal excess interest from a bank. When interest on a bank account
is calculated, there is often a fraction of a cent left over after
rounding off. This programmer instructed a computer to deposit
these fractions of a cent to his own account. Although this is an
ordinary case of stealing, it is relevant to computer ethics in that
computer technology is essentially involved and there is a question
about what policy to institute in order to best detect and prevent
such abuse. Without access to the program used for stealing the
interest or to a sophisticated accounting program such an activity
may easily go un-noticed.
Another possibility for invisible abuse is the invasion of the property
and privacy of others. A computer can be programmed to contact
another computer over phone lines and surreptitiously remove or
alter confidential information. Sometimes an inexpensive computer
and a telephone hookup is all it takes. A group of teenagers, who
named themselves "the 414s" after the Milwaukee telephone
exchange, used their home computers to invade a New York
hospital, a California bank, and a government nuclear weapons
laboratory. These break-ins were done as pranks, but obviously such
invasions can be done with malice and be difficult or impossible to
detect.
A particularly insidious example of invisible abuse is the use of
computers for surveillance. For instance, a company's central
computer can monitor the work done on computer terminals far
better and more discreetly than the most dedicated sweatshop
manager. Also, computers can be programmed to monitor phone
calls and electronic mail without giving any evidence of tampering.
A Texas oil company, for example, was baffled why it was always
outbid on leasing rights for Alaskan territory until it discovered
another bidder was tapping its data transmission lines near its
Alaskan computer terminal.
A second variety of the invisibility factor, which is more subtle and
conceptually interesting than the first, is the presence of invisible
programming values. Invisible programming values are those values
which are embedded in a computer program.
Writing a computer program is like building a house. No matter
how detailed the specifications may be, a builder must make
numerous decisions about matters not specified in order to
construct the house. Different houses are compatible with a given
set of specifications. Similarly, a request for a computer program is
made at a level of abstraction usually far removed from the details
of the actual programming language. In order to implement a
program which satisfies the specifications a programmer makes
some value judgments about what is important and what is not.
These values become embedded in the final product and may be
invisible to someone who runs the program.
Consider, for example, computerized airline reservations. Many
different programs could be written to produce a reservation
service. American Airlines once promoted such a service called
"SABRE". This program had a bias for American Airline flights built in
so that sometimes an American Airline flight was suggested by the
computer even if it was not the best flight available. Indeed, Braniff
Airlines, which went into bankruptcy for awhile, sued American
Airlines on the grounds that this kind of bias in the reservation
service contributed to its financial difficulties.
Although the general use of a biased reservation service is ethically
suspicious, a programmer of such a service may or may not be
engaged in invisible abuse. There may be a difference between how
a programmer intends a program to be used and how it is actually
used. Moreover, even if one sets out to create a program for a
completely unbiased reservation service, some value judgments are
latent in the program because some choices have to be made about
how the program operates. Are airlines listed in alphabetical order?
Is more than one listed at a time? Are flights just before the time
requested listed? For what period after the time requested are
flights listed? Some answers, at least implicitly, have to be given to
these questions when the program is written. Whatever answers are
chosen will build certain values into the program.
Sometimes invisible programming values are so invisible that even
the programmers are unaware of them. Programs may have bugs or
may be based on implicit assumptions which don't become obvious
until there is a crisis. For example, the operators of the ill-fated
Three Mile Island nuclear power plant were trained on a computer
which was programmed to simulate possible malfunctions including
malfunctions which were dependent on other malfunctions. But, as
the Kemeny Commission which investigated the disaster discovered,
the simulator was not programmed to generate simultaneous,
independent malfunctions. In the actual failure at Three Mile Island
the operators were faced with exactly this situation simultaneous,
independent malfunctions. The inadequacy of the computer
simulation was the result of a programming decision, as
unconscious or implicit as that decision may have been. Shortly after
the disaster the computer was reprogrammed to simulate situations
like the one that did occur at Three Mile Island.
A third variety of the invisibility factor, which is perhaps the most
disturbing, is invisible complex calculation. Computers today are
capable of enormous calculations beyond human comprehension.
Even if a program is understood, it does not follow that the
calculations based on that program are understood. Computers
today perform, and certainly supercomputers in the future will
perform, calculations which are too complex for human inspection
and understanding.
An interesting example of such complex calculation occurred in
1976 when a computer worked on the four color conjecture. The
four color problem, a puzzle mathematicians have worked on for
over a century is to show that a map can be colored with at most
four colors so that no adjacent areas have the same color.
Mathematicians at the University of Illinois broke the problem down
into thousands of cases and programmed computers to consider
them. After more than a thousand hours of computer time on
various computers, the four color conjecture was proved correct.
What is interesting about this mathematical proof, compared to
traditional proofs, is that it is largely invisible. The general structure
of the proof is known and found in the program and any particular
part of the computer's activity can be examined, but practically
speaking the calculations are too enormous for humans to examine
them all.
The issue is how much we should trust a computer's invisible
calculations. This becomes a significant ethical issue as the
consequences grow in importance. For instance, computers are used
by the military in making decisions about launching nuclear
weapons. On the one hand, computers are fallible and there may
not be time to confirm their assessment of the situation. On the
other hand, making decisions about launching nuclear weapons
without using computers may be even more fallible and more
dangerous. What should be our policy about trusting invisible
calculations?
A partial solution to the invisibility problem may lie with computers
themselves. One of the strengths of computers is the ability to
locate hidden information and display it. Computers can make the
invisible visible. Information which is lost in a sea of data can be
clearly revealed with the proper computer analysis. But, that's the
catch. We don't always know when, where, and how to direct the
computer's attention. The invisibility factor presents us with a
dilemma. We are happy in one sense that the operations of a
computer are invisible. We don't want to inspect every
computerized transaction or program every step for ourselves or
watch every computer calculation. In terms of efficiency the
invisibility factor is a blessing. But it is just this invisibility that makes
us vulnerable. We are open to invisible abuse or invisible
programming of inappropriate values or invisible miscalculation. The
challenge for computer ethics is to formulate policies which will help
us deal with this dilemma. We must decide when to trust computers
and when not to trust them. This is another reason why computer
ethics is so important.

The United States armed forces have a lead on a suspected
terrorist in Baluchistan, Pakistan. They plan to take him out
during a funeral ceremony, but as the man had been a recluse,
getting a positive ID proved difficult. The Department of
Defense's new computer system recommends that the mission
be aborted due to the uncertainty. Defense Secretary Callister
(Michael Chiklis) agrees with the abort recommendation, but the
president orders the mission be carried out anyway. The result is
a political backlash when all of the victims of the attack turn out
to be civilians. Retaliatory suicide bombings across the world
target US citizens in response.

Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) is a Stanford University dropout who
lacks direction and faces financial difficulty. He finds out that his
more ambitious twin brother Ethan, an Air Force lieutenant with
expertise in parallel algorithms and quantum electronics, has
died, following a truck accident. Jerry had last seen Ethan three
Christmases prior.

Following Ethan's funeral, Jerry goes to withdraw some money
from an ATM and is surprised to see that he suddenly has
$750,000 in his account. Money comes flying out of the
machine and he scoops up most of it and takes off. When he
returns home, he finds his apartment filled with a large number
of weapons, explosives, and forged documents. He receives a
phone call from an unknown woman who explains that the FBI
is coming and will apprehend him in thirty seconds and if he
doesn't leave right then.

Not believing her, Jerry is caught by the FBI and sent to an
interrogation room where he meets Special Agent Thomas
Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton). After some initial discussion,
Morgan leaves the room to meet with Air Force Office of
Special Investigations Special Agent Zoe Perez (Rosario
Dawson). She wants to interrogate Jerry. Morgan says no. While
they are talking, a fax comes in from the Attorney General
ordering the FBI to authorize one phone call to Jerry, after he'd
already been told he would get no phone calls. An agent takes
Jerry to a room with a phone.

Jerry picks up the phone and the unknown woman's voice
comes on again, this time telling Jerry to get down flat on the
floor. Within seconds, the wall caves in and a crane boom
comes smashing through. Jerry sees an electronic sign on a
building across the street, scrolling words that tell him to climb
out and jump. He has now learned that the woman's voice and
messages should be given serious attention, so he jumps and
falls onto a subway track. The sign tells him to board the train.
He does.

A cell phone sitting on top of a bag near Jerry rings and a
message on the screen is for Jerry. He picks up the phone and
answers it. It's the woman giving him further instructions. He's
told to stay on the train, but he decides to try and escape by
jumping over to another train. That train comes to a sudden
stop and Jerry is called and told by the woman to listen and do
what he's told. He's told to approach a car being driven by a
single mother Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan). The
"voice" has also been coercing Rachel into doing things by
threatening to kill her son, Sam, a trumpet player on his way to
Washington, D.C., from Chicago for a band recital at the
Kennedy Center. When the woman spoke to Rachel, she told
Rachel that she was "being activated."

When Jerry jumps into Rachel's car, she freaks out and fights
and argues with him until he mentions her name and is able to
calm her down enough to tell her what's been happening to
him. The voice then comes across the GPS unit in the car and
tells Rachel to get going. At the same moment, the police and
FBI are on the scene and start shooting at them, so Rachel takes
off. Multiple police and unmarked vehicles are after them.

The voice tells Rachel exactly how to drive, how fast, when to
brake, where to turn, etc. The voice helps the pair to avoid the
Chicago Police and FBI units, demonstrating the ability to
remotely control virtually any networked device, such as traffic
lights, cell phones, automated cranes, and even electrical wires.
All of their pursuers are caused to be diverted or crash as
Rachel and Jerry are directed into a wrecking yard. The large
cranes in the yard are being remotely controlled and they
eliminate the remaining police and FBI vehicles before grabbing
Rachel's car and lifting it high in the air. Jerry and Rachel are
told to stay in the car, but they decide to jump out anyway.
They land on top of some garbage bags in a large barge that is
cruising along in the nearby water. Rachel's car is dropped into
the water.

At a military briefing at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in
Maryland, an officer is explaining the military's latest weapon as
something with 80 times more explosive power than C-4. This
new explosive is in the form of a hexagonal crystal and it's
triggered by broadcasting a particular sonic frequency. 200 units
of the crystal explosive are about to be sent out to field units.
The voice has arranged for one of the crystals to be sent to a
jeweler and the sonic device to be sent to a music store owner.
Both men are unwilling participants.

The jewelry is ordered to create a necklace from the crystal,
while the music store owner is ordered to insert the sound-
based trigger inside Sam's trumpet. Sam is an unwitting
participant in whatever is being planned.

Jerry and Rachel are directed by the voice to travel from
Chicago to Washington, D.C. via Kendall County, Indianapolis
and Dayton, Ohio. They start out on foot and as they are
walking between two major power lines out in the country, a
white van approaches and a man named Ranim Khalid (Anthony
Azizi) jumps out, thrusts a piece of paper at Jerry and throws
the van keys onto the ground, saying "I'm done!" and he turns
and runs away. The power lines then start arcing and fall to the
ground, electrocuting Kahlid and cooking his body. Morgan and
his men find a crystal on the body. It was Kahlid who'd
produced the necklace from the larger crystal.

As they drive in the van to their next destination, Jerry and
Rachel start arguing about his brother and her son and Jerry
gets so upset, he pulls the van over, tosses the cell phone on
the hood and begins walking away. Rachel chases after him,
reminding him that they can't just walk away. The voice had
warned them about the serious consequences associated with
doing that.

Secretary Callister approaches Agent Perez and tells her it's time
to bring her fully into the investigation she's involved with. He
introduces her to a Major Bowman (Anthony Mackie) and
informs her that they suspect a terror attack of some sort is
imminent. That information is based on their new massive
computer system that monitors virtually every electronic-based
system in the country and filters and consolidates information
to that threats can be identified. The system is still in beta
testing.

The computer system, referred to as the "Autonomous
Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst" (ARIIA), consists
of what appears to be hundreds of gold colored orbs situated
along the walls of a large globe-shaped room. Another orb,
attached to a movable arm, interacts with those attached to the
walls. The voice of the computer system (voiced by Julianne
Moore) is the same voice that had been directing Jerry and
Rachel. Secretary Callister orders ARIIA to assist Perez in her
investigation.

As ARIIA directs Jerry and Rachel to a mall to obtain a change
of clothes, Jerry tires of answering ringing cell phones and land
lines and tells the ARIIA that he's not taking any more orders
via phone. ARIIA tells him to proceed to the video room of a
nearby Circuit City store. Over several television screens ARIIA
introduces herself to Jerry and Rachel by flashing up photos and
videos of everything they'd ever done and that had been
recorded via electronic media, including that of their families.

In light of the mistake made by the President in the botched
terrorist assassination attempt, ARIIA had decided that the
executive branch of the U.S. government was a threat to the
public good and must be eliminated. ARIIA plans to destroy the
President and his cabinet via something referred to as
"Operation Guillotine." ARIIA has decided to leave Secretary
Callister -- who had agreed with her recommendation to abort
the mission -- as the successor to the presidency. ARIIA has not
revealed any of this information to Jerry, Rachel, or even
Secretary Callister, merely explaining that she is trying to help
the people of the United States and Jerry and Rachel are being
recruited for purposes of national defense.

ARIIA directs Jerry and Rachel to a side street where there's an
armored car awaiting delivery of a package. They are directed to
intercept the package. To do so, they have to grab a couple of
sawed off shotguns and get the drop on two security guards.
They are able to get away with the stainless steel briefcase the
guards were carrying and ARIIA assists in the getaway by setting
off alarms and fire sprinkling systems, causing people to spill
into the street and enveloping Rachel and Jerry as they run
from the pursuing armored car guards and police. ARIIA opens
a locked gate so Jerry and Rachel can get out of the crowd and
she eventually directs them to a Japanese tour bus that stops
and picks them up.

Morgan, realizing that everything connected to a network of
some sort was being monitored and controlled, approaches a
small business near where Jerry was last seen. Viewing the old
fashioned camera/VCR recording, he sees Jerry and Rachel
boarding the Japanese tour bus. When he learns the bus was
headed for the airport, that's where he and his men go.

During the bus ride, Jerry tells Rachel that his brother Ethan was
always able to do things Jerry couldn't and he was always trying
to help Jerry learn how to do things better so he'd look good in
his father's eyes. Jerry figures that whatever Ethan was involved
with, it now is incumbent on him to try and complete. He wants
to do that for Ethan.

The bus drops them at the airport where a man walks up and
hands Jerry an envelope containing a credit card and passports
and he gives them their next instructions. Morgan and his men
arrive at the airport and begin looking for Jerry and Rachel. As
Jerry goes through security and places the briefcase on the
scanner, ARIIA changes the view picture so it won't reveal what's
inside. About that time, Morgan spots Jerry, draws his gun and
gives chase. They run through the concourse, eventually exiting
an emergency door and going into the luggage handling area,
where Morgan fires at them, eventually catching up to them
and engaging in hand-to-hand battle as they travel along on a
moving belt. Morgan drops his gun and Jerry picks it up and
points it at Morgan, but he doesn't shoot. Instead, ARIIA diverts
Morgan along another belt that takes him to a holding area.

Jerry and Rachel are directed by ARIIA to an Air Force transport
plane where the electronic lock on the briefcase is released,
revealing two pistol shaped injection syringes. They are directed
to inject themselves with a serum that will reduce their bodies'
needs for oxygen. Then they crawl into a storage container.
Before they fall asleep, Jerry gets Rachel to talk about her son
so that her mind will relax. He learns that her ex-husband was a
disappointment to her and after she fell asleep, he whispers that
he won't disappoint her.

At the Pentagon, where ARIIA is housed, Agent Perez discovers
that Jerry's late brother, Ethan, worked as a technician on ARIAA
and when he learned of her plan to destroy the executive
branch, he used biometrics to lock it down. ARIIA needs to scan
Jerry so that his biometrics can be used to unlock the system.

Perez and Major Bowman are viewing a video log of Ethan's last
day on the job, working with ARIIA. Ethan strangely walks
several times around the room and Perez finally notices he's
holding a cell phone and it's flashing. She thinks it may be
Morse code. Bowman interprets it to say "Fire Extinguisher."
ARIIA picks up on their conversation and is ordering the video
log destroyed. Bowman argues with ARIIA, but the computer
deletes the log. Perez goes to a nearby fire extinguisher box
and finds a memory card for a cell phone tucked in there.

After viewing the memory card, Perez calls Morgan and tells
him that Ethan worked on a project called Eagle Eye for the
Secretary of Defense and was trying to stop the project. He was
subsequently killed when a large truck broadsided his car at an
intersection. She tells him that the computer system, ARIIA, was
attempting to carry out a plan to eliminate the President and
other members of the executive branch of the government.

Perez and Major Bowman go to Secretary Callister and they take
him to a sealed room to discuss what they'd learned. The sealed
room was to prevent ARIIA from hearing or otherwise learning
the content of their conversation. Callister admits to them that
the administration had relied on some false intelligence in
targeting a terrorist leader and ARIIA had tried unsuccessfully to
stop them.

Jerry and Rachel are delivered to the Pentagon and are taken 36
stories below ground, to where ARIIA is located. ARIIA orders
Rachel to step away from Jerry, then it proceeds to do a
biometric scan of his body, and gets him to read a few words
put up on a screen. The result is a release of the lock placed by
Ethan on Operation Guillotine. ARIIA shows Jerry CCTV footage
displaying Ethan's fatal car crash, explaining that she
orchestrated his death because he was a threat to her plans.
Jerry and Rachel watch as the details of the plan flash across
the monitors and the president and his cabinet are shown to be
targets.

Jerry immediately regrets what he has done and is visibly
agitated. ARIIA then instructs Rachel to eliminate Jerry to
prevent him from re-establishing the lock on the program.
Rachel points a pistol at Jerry, but she cannot bring herself to
pull the trigger. Jerry even takes hold of the barrel of the pistol
and holds it flush against his face, encouraging Rachel to pull
the trigger and save her son's life. Rachel can't and Jerry
chooses not to pull the trigger himself.

Rachel is escorted away by a man just before Morgan and other
men come barging into the control room and arrest Jerry. ARIIA
tells Rachel that she has one task remaining and that Jerry will
be eliminated by other means.

ARIIA allows Major Bowman and Perez to exit the room they'd
been meeting with Secretary Callister in, but slams the door
shut before the Secretary can leave. She then creates a huge
electrical disturbance and fire in the area outside the room,
attempting to kill Bowman and Perez. They escape to an area
under the floor. ARIIA explains to Secretary Callister what she's
doing in terms of Operation Guillotine and how it was decided
he will be the new president once the current president and his
cabinet are exterminated. Callister is shocked and dismayed.

Having been warned by Agent Perez, Morgan believes Jerry's
story and asserts his authority to get Jerry released to his
custody. He then drives Jerry towards the United States Capitol,
instructing him to dispose of any electronics he may have along
the way. ARIIA sends a MQ-9 Reaper UCAV after them. After the
drone's first pass, their car is flipped and destroyed and they are
able to get out and commandeer another vehicle. The drone
attacks again while they are driving through a tunnel. Agent
Morgan is injured such that he can't continue much longer. He
gives Jerry his badge and gun and tells him to get to the capitol
and search out the sergeant-at-arms and relay the code for a
threat to the president so that the sergeant-at-arms will assist
him. As Jerry takes off, the drone returns and sights in on him.
Agent Morgan jumps into another vehicle and accelerates
towards the approaching drone. He slams his vehicle into what
looks like a large steel structure lying in the road. The steel
structure is leveraged vertically and slams into the drone,
destroying it.

Rachel is taken by her male escort to an office where he
produces a new identification card for her and hands her a
dress to put on. He also gives her the necklace containing the
hex crystal. Rachel tries to persuade the man to work with her
so they can help each other, but he won't risk the lives of his
own family and tells her she has only a few minutes to get to
the house chamber where the president will be delivering his
State of the Union address.

Major Bowman and Agent Perez have made their way back to
ARIIA and are attempting to destroy the computer by draining
out the liquid nitrogen that surrounds the equipment to keep it
cool. ARIIA interrupts their efforts by creating an electrical
discharge that knocks them both into a pool of water located at
the bottom of the chamber.

Rachel is greeted by a young female as she approaches the
house chamber and is escorted to her seat in the balcony. The
president's cabinet is announced and the members begin to file
in. The president arrives. Sam's class, whose recital has been
moved from the Kennedy Center to the capitol to play the
national anthem prior to the president's speech, begins to play.
The trigger that will set off the explosive necklace is set to
activate when Sam plays a sustained "high F" on his trumpet
corresponding to the word "free" in the last stanza of the
national anthem. ARIIA had arranged this as poetic justice,
believing the president to not be brave.

Jerry overpowers a guard standing at a barred gate that
provides underground access to the house chamber. He puts on
the guards uniform and manages to gain entry to the chamber
just as Rachel is attempting to get to her son, but she is
prevented from doing so by security. Observing the extreme
fear and agitation on part of Rachel, Jerry jumps up onto a
desk, draws his pistol and fires several shots into the air. The
performance immediately stops as people scream and scramble
for cover. Security rush the kids in the orchestra from the room.
A confused Secret Service agent shoots Jerry 2-3 times, taking
him down.

Back at ARIIA, Bowman unsuccessfully attempts to destroy the
central orb of the computer as he is knocked back and down.
Rachel then picks up what appears to be a pry bar and jams it
into the orb, creating a massive short-circuit which takes ARIIA
out.

In a committee hearing after the chaos ARIIA caused, the
Secretary of Defense urges that another supercomputer like
ARIIA should not be built: "sometimes the very measures we put
into place to safeguard our liberty become threats to liberty
itself," he cautions them.

Ethan posthumously receives the Medal of Honor and Agent
Morgan posthumously receives the Commendation Medal, while
Jerry, injured but alive and well, receives the Congressional Gold
Medal.

The film ends with Jerry attending Sam's birthday party. He
brings a big present (something Sam's father never did) and
Rachel thanks him for attending, then tenderly kisses him on the
cheek. She tells Jerry that she's glad he's there. He softly
responds, "me too".



The word preposterous is too moderate to
describe "Eagle Eye." This film contains not a
single plausible moment after the opening
sequence, and that's borderline. It's not an
assault on intelligence. It's an assault on
consciousness. I know, I know, I liked "Mummy:
Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," but that film
intended to be absurd. "Eagle Eye" has real cars
and buildings and trains and CNN and stuff, and
purports to take place in the real world.
You might like it, actually. Lots of people will. It
involves relentless action: chases involving planes,
trains, automobiles, buses. Hundreds of dead.
Enough crashes to stock a junkyard. Lots of stuff
being blowed up real good. Two heroes who lack
any experience with violence but somehow
manage to stick up an armored car at gunpoint,
walk on board an unguarded military transport
plane and penetrate to the ultra-secret 29th-floor
basement of the Pentagon.
They are Jerry and Rachel (Shia LaBeouf
and Michelle Monaghan). Both are ordinary
Chicagoans until they start getting commands
from a mysterious female voice on their cell
phones. Now try to follow this. Whatever force is
behind the voice has control of every cell phone
and security camera in the nation. They can
control every elevated train and every stop light.
Can observe the traffic and give precise driving
instructions. Can control the movements of
cranes in junkyards, the locations of garbage
barges and arrange for a rendezvous on a dirt
road in an Indiana country field. Oh, and when a
guy drives down the road to meet them in a van,
They can instruct them to warn the guy that if he
walks away, he will be killed. If They don't want
him dead, then why do They kill him -- since the
situation clearly reflects Their power?
We haven't even arrived at the Pentagon, and
already the audience is chuckling at the
impossibilities. I won't even get started on the air
cargo container, the syringes inside and the on-
time recovery of the heroes after they give
themselves shots. Turns out the syringes were in
a briefcase that the heroes survived incredible
death and destruction to pick up, and it isn't
even needed after the plane takes off. I won't
give it away, but the only thing They really need
is an attribute of Jerry's. So here's an idea that
would save billions of dollars and hundreds of
lives: Why not get a couple of no-neck guys from
the West Side to kidnap Jerry, haul him on board
a private jet and transport him to Them?
OK, OK. Enough with the implausibilities. This
whole movie is a feature-lengthdeus ex
machina, and if you don't know what that is, look
it up, because you're going to need it to discuss
"Eagle Eye." And yet I think I'll use the tricky star-
rating system to give it two stars. Now why
would I give it two instead of, oh, say, one star?
Both because of the elements I've complained
about, and in spiteof the elements I've
complained about.
Let me explain. If you're looking for a narrative
that makes much sense, "Eagle Eye" lacks one. It's
essentially a lot of CGI and stunt work, all stuck
together in a row. LaBeouf is a good young actor,
but you wouldn't discover that here. I barely had
time to observe that he resembles an
underweight John Cusackwhen he was off and
running, as Jerry and Rachel became elements in
effect scenes. The movie obviously intends to
resemble and inspire a video game, and at that it
is slick. I look forward to film students using their
clickers to work out the average shot length. I'm
predicting less than three seconds. So to
summarize, "Eagle Eye" is great at all the things I
object to, and I admit it. But I didn't enjoy it.