Stanford Students and Professors Focus on Ethics and Social Responsibility in Technology
Some students and faculty are pushing their peers to be leaders in the conversation about ethics and social responsibility in technology given Stanford’s unique role as an institution in the heart of Silicon Valley,
“Stanford is the premier educator of the visionary founders and hardware and software engineers who inhabit Silicon Valley,” said political science professor Rob Reich MA ’98 Ph.D. ’98, who teaches a course on ethics in technology and computing, wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Stanford shouldn’t just be producing technological innovation; it should study and teach its ethical and social ramifications.
In recent years, the University has made progress towards this goal, notably by implementing new academic initiatives focused on the intersection of ethics and technology. To educate students and communities beyond Stanford on ethics in technology, the Department of Computer Science (CS) at the University has implemented courses in its curriculum linking the humanities, social sciences and computer science, thus illustrating an interdisciplinary approach to technology, wrote Reich.
A course Reich teaches, CS 182: “Ethics, Public Policy, and Technological Change,” has even been offered to the entire Silicon Valley community as part of Stanford’s Continuing Studies program, while a another version of the course was offered to technology professionals in San Francisco. The CS department has also launched an integrated ethics initiative, inserting ethics modules into the undergraduate CS program courses.
“Stanford bears more responsibility than any other university for inventing the digital technologies that have revolutionized industries and profoundly affected the lives of people and societies around the world,” Reich wrote.
According to a FastCompany article written by Reich, Professor of Political Science Jeremey Weinstein and Professor of Computer Science Mehran Sahami Ph.D. ’99.
In the article, the professors compare the life of Joshua Browder ’18 – the founder of DoNotPay, and who they say represents the rapid rise of Silicon Valley tech leaders – and Aaron Swartz, a tech entrepreneur who played a key role in the fundamental stages. of Reddit and whose work has focused more on accessibility and accountability in tech.
The professors cite the two Stanford alumni, writing that “the rise of the Joshua Browders and the decline of the Aaron Swartzes sum up the challenge the world faces with Silicon Valley.”
By basing students on personal, professional, social, and political ethics, Reich wrote that he hopes Stanford can inspire students to “reflect on their role as facilitators and shapers of technological change in society” and ” internalize a commitment to their responsibilities as innovators, designers, coders, engineers, decision makers, citizens and consumers.
Computer science students Devin Green ’24 and Afnaan Hashmi ’24 also noticed the shift in campus and Silicon Valley culture surrounding technological innovation and its ethical implications.
Green said those who code for advocacy and inclusive innovation are often left behind because “technology and programming, in the big tech world in particular, is more about creating something cool that also pays off. money “. He referred to Timnit Gebru, who was fired from Google after arguing for less bias in Google’s artificial intelligence algorithms.
Green said that amid the rise of the next generation of coders and innovators, he hopes the tech industry can focus on coding for good rather than wealth.
Stanford students want to help lead the next wave of ethical technology. “Innovation must exist in tandem with ethics and discussions surrounding the ethical implications of a given technology,” Hashmi said. He said Stanford’s ethics in computer and technology classes is a step in the right direction and that he hopes to see this effort extended to K-12 programs.
Reich hopes Stanford will lead the transition to a more ethical tech industry.
“With each new innovation, we want students to ask themselves: what am I allowing others to do? What responsibilities does this imply for me as an innovator, citizen and human being? Reich wrote.