Ethics: Are we misusing the terms "master-slave". Do we even have a community / forum in which we can discuss this?

The recent world wide considerations of the diversity challenges in our society has highlighted that we in Engineering can be perpetuating some of the derogatory terms implicit within our use of "Master-Slave" for purely inanimate technical control scenarios. [1 - N]


We have policies on slavery that every volunteer, staff member and Trustee must read and abide to, but it appears we haven't noticed, to any significant extent, our own continued use of "slave" in our writings.


Do we even have a community or forum in which we can discuss this ethical, and publishing issue?


Philip Oakley

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53273923

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3243656.stm

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53050955

[4 ] http://www.jstor.com/stable/40061475   "Broken Metaphor: The Master-Slave Analogy in Technical Literature"

[5] https://www.theiet.org/involved/volunteering-for-the-iet/volunteer-hub/our-policies/anti-slavery-policy/


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  • Former Community Member
    0 Former Community Member
    Thanks for the reply Philip, though I am not entirely sure why I posted to this topic, cheers anyway ?
  • The primary usages of the terms 'master' & 'slave' in electronics are for the SPI bus. Whilst SDI and SDO suffer the same lack of clarity as TX/RX for a UART, MISO & MOSI give clarity of direction and purpose. Erasing the word 'slave' from our vocabulary in no way benefits those who have suffered or do suffer under slavery, instead sweeping it under the carpet. I see no benefit, quite the opposite, from this proposal.
  • Former Community Member
    0 Former Community Member


    “But for a bunch of white people on this forum to say "I don't think master/slave is offensive" is possibly missing the point.“


    Hi Simon, it’s a bit of a stretch to call 2 posters on this topic a “bunch”, and how are you assessing their ethnicity?
  • Former Community Member
    0 Former Community Member
    How about male and female connections connotations


    So far this topic has had 14 posts and only 37 views from a membership of over 150000!
  • weirdbeard:


    “But for a bunch of white people on this forum to say "I don't think master/slave is offensive" is possibly missing the point.“


    Hi Simon, it’s a bit of a stretch to call 2 posters on this topic a “bunch”, and how are you assessing their ethnicity?


    OK, I am only going by those few posters who have chosen to put their faces in their profile.


  • Former Community Member
    0 Former Community Member
    Philip Oakley:



    Aside: Is there some tick box to get notifications of replies sent?



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  • Alex Barrett:

    The primary usages of the terms 'master' & 'slave' in electronics are for the SPI bus. Whilst SDI and SDO suffer the same lack of clarity as TX/RX for a UART, MISO & MOSI give clarity of direction and purpose. Erasing the word 'slave' from our vocabulary in no way benefits those who have suffered or do suffer under slavery, instead sweeping it under the carpet. I see no benefit, quite the opposite, from this proposal.


    It's the uncaring association of slavery with inanimate objects and methods, rather than the real suffering of fellow citizens, that provides no benefit. Rather it allows our bad practices regarding some parts of society to continue without thought or comment.


    We already have plenty of alternative words: Primary-secondary, leader-follower, main-consequent, etc. 


    It's a case where in the past we took a slight deviation which started to tun into a slippery slope of indifference. It's a small course correction, just like small changes in the wiring regs to improve the health, safety and well being of those who interact with our technical products.


  • weirdbeard:


    “But for a bunch of white people on this forum to say "I don't think master/slave is offensive" is possibly missing the point.“


    Hi Simon, it’s a bit of a stretch to call 2 posters on this topic a “bunch”, and how are you assessing their ethnicity?


    The ensemble of IET membership is "Old White Male", so we (en masse) are not seeing the impact of these (many) wider issues. The Institution is trying to restore the balance with a number of initiatives, most of which are on the 'Promotions & Advertising' side (hoping for outcomes), but not that many on the 'active change' side (giving control input).


    Maybe contributors from the 'systems failure' community have some reflections (CEng CPD Reflections..) on this?


  • Philip Oakley:
    Alex Barrett:

    The primary usages of the terms 'master' & 'slave' in electronics are for the SPI bus. Whilst SDI and SDO suffer the same lack of clarity as TX/RX for a UART, MISO & MOSI give clarity of direction and purpose. Erasing the word 'slave' from our vocabulary in no way benefits those who have suffered or do suffer under slavery, instead sweeping it under the carpet. I see no benefit, quite the opposite, from this proposal.


    It's the uncaring association of slavery with inanimate objects and methods, rather than the real suffering of fellow citizens, that provides no benefit. Rather it allows our bad practices regarding some parts of society to continue without thought or comment.


    We already have plenty of alternative words: Primary-secondary, leader-follower, main-consequent, etc. 


    It's a case where in the past we took a slight deviation which started to tun into a slippery slope of indifference. It's a small course correction, just like small changes in the wiring regs to improve the health, safety and well being of those who interact with our technical products.




    Philip, how does avoiding use of the word help those who have suffered or do suffer from slavery?



  • Philip, how does avoiding use of the word help those who have suffered or do suffer from slavery?



    Ahh, the 'facemask' conundrum.  You are pushing the wrong end of the piece of string. It's the deliberate and potentially malicious use of the word to pretend that those who have 'slave' ancestry are to be considered as simply inanimate objects by association that is the issue. At some point it's simply a level of indifference to the effect on others.


    In essence it's no different to having children clean under the working looms in the mills of the past. Children were cheap, easily produced and disposable..  Not.


    We have better alternatives, lets use them. E2, E1, D1-3, etc.