3 Questions: David Kaiser and Julie Shah on social and ethical responsibilities of computing

David Kaiser and Julie Shah are on a mission to prepare students and facilitate research to address the broad challenges and opportunities associated with computing. As associate deans of Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC) in the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, Kaiser and Shah are advancing a number of initiatives they hope will get students and faculty to reflect on the potential social, ethical, and policy implications of new technologies.

To help guide their efforts, Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics, and Shah, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, have developed a teaching, research, and engagement framework for SERC that includes case studies, active learning projects, and building a community of scholars. Here, they discuss projects that are taking shape and how they are tapping into the expertise of colleagues across a wide range of fields to help inform the activities of SERC.

Q: Weaving social and ethical aspects of computing into the curricula is a key mandate of SERC. How are you approaching this challenge and what are some efforts underway?

Kaiser: Every semester we bring together a number of interdisciplinary faculty groups that we call SERC Dean’s Action Groups. Each group consists of eight to 12 members from across MIT. The idea is for them to work together, discuss common research interests, and craft original content that can be embedded into a wide variety of courses and materials, across all levels of instruction, such as new questions for existing assignments and new final projects.

The action groups are modeled on successful workshops organized by MIT’s Teaching and Learning Laboratory. To date we’ve launched five action groups in three focal areas: active learning projects; AI and public policy; and computing, data, and anti-racism.

Over the past academic year, several faculty members — including Dwai Banerjee and Will Deringer from the Program in Science, Technology, and Society; In

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