Articles  |    |  August 15, 2019

Embedded EthiCS: Integrating Ethics Across CS Education – Harvard University

Article by Barbara J. Grosz, David Gray Grant, et al. Published in Communications of the ACM.
Embedded EthiCS is a Repository of Open Source Course Modules.


The particular design of any technology may have profound social implications. Computing technologies are deeply intermeshed with the activities of daily life, playing an ever more central role in how we work, learn, communicate, socialize, and participate in government. Despite the many ways they have improved life, they cannot be regarded as unambiguously beneficial or even value-neutral. Recent experience shows they can lead to unintended but harmful consequences. Some technologies are thought to threaten democracy through the spread of propaganda on online social networks, or to threaten privacy through the aggregation of datasets that include increasingly personal information, or to threaten justice when machine learning is used in such high-stakes, decision-making contexts as loan application reviews, employment procedures, or parole hearings.

It is insufficient to ethically assess technology after it has produced negative social impacts, as has happened, for example, with facial recognition software that discriminates against people of color and with self-driving cars that are unable to cope with pedestrians who jay-walk.13,15 Developers of new technologies should aim to identify potential harmful consequences early in the design process and take steps to eliminate or mitigate them. This task is not easy. Designers will often have to negotiate among competing values—for instance, between efficiency and accessibility for a diverse user population, or between maximizing benefits and avoiding harm. There is no simple recipe for identifying and solving ethical problems. [ . . . ]

Related article: Embedding ethics in computer science curriculum – The Harvard Gazette