If you’re a technological optimist, a rosy future flows from the wellspring of your work. This implies a limitation on ethical responsibility. The important thing is to do the work, and do it well. This even becomes a moral imperative, as the work itself is your social contribution.

But what if computer science is not benefiting man? Technological pessimists like Jacques Ellul, Herbert Marcuse, and Lewis Mumford certainly didn’t think that it was. They saw modern technology as an interlocking system that, instead of fulfilling human needs, engendered pointless wants and deadlier weapons. Man is becoming little more than the sex organs of the machine world.

Taking a less “extreme” view, technological contextualists acknowledge the concerns of the pessimists, but emphasize man’s essential agency and the malleability of technology. Contextualism dominates the dialectic of technology studies.

The ethic of responsibility is always paired with the contextualist view of sociotechnology. At some level, this must be so: a normative need vanishes if, in the garden of forking paths, all paths lead to good (or, for that matter, to bad). But it is technological optimism that most people buy into, especially scientists and engineers. Unbridled technological optimism undermines the basic need for social responsibility.

Phillip Rogaway, “The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work”