News  |    |  September 4, 2019

Brown CS Makes Responsible Computer Science An Integral Part Of Its Undergraduate Program

News article by Jesse Polhemus. Published on the Brown University website.


Computer science that benefits humanity, science that’s grounded in an awareness of its societal impact, has long been a Brown CS hallmark. Today, more than forty years after the founding of the department, global concern about the ethical and societal issues surrounding computing is greater than ever. This semester brings a new departmental initiative, Responsible CS, which will place the exploration of those issues broadly at the heart of the Brown CS undergraduate experience. 

In the last few years, the department has started to offer a number of courses that exclusively address the ethical and societal impact of CS. These include Cybersecurity Ethics (new this fall); Data, Ethics and Society; and CS for Social Change. While these courses allow students to explore these subjects in depth, Brown CS felt it was important to cover ethical and societal issues in as many courses as possible and as frequently as possible.

“Computer science doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” says Professor Ugur Cetintemel. “Having individual courses on these topics can make it look like ethics is just a box to check, and that can sometimes cause students to think they’re ‘done’ after completing a single course.” Several CS classes have already been incorporating ethical and societal issues in their course material, he explains, and instructors from other classes had expressed an interest in doing so with more institutional support. That’s what led to the creation of the Responsible CS program. [ . . . ]