Fostering ethical thinking in computing

Traditional computer scientists and engineers are trained to develop solutions for specific needs, but aren’t always trained to consider their broader implications. Each new technology generation, and particularly the rise of artificial intelligence, leads to new kinds of systems, new ways of creating tools, and new forms of data, for which norms, rules, and laws frequently have yet to catch up. The kinds of impact that such innovations have in the world has often not been apparent until many years later.

As part of the efforts in Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC) within the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, a new case studies series examines social, ethical, and policy challenges of present-day efforts in computing with the aim of facilitating the development of responsible “habits of mind and action” for those who create and deploy computing technologies.

“Advances in computing have undeniably changed much of how we live and work. Understanding and incorporating broader social context is becoming ever more critical,” says Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. “This case study series is designed to be a basis for discussions in the classroom and beyond, regarding social, ethical, economic, and other implications so that students and researchers can pursue the development of technology across domains in a holistic manner that addresses these important issues.”

A modular system

By design, the case studies are brief and modular to allow users to mix and match the content to fit a variety of pedagogical needs. Series editors David Kaiser and Julie Shah, who are the associate deans for SERC, structured the cases primarily to be appropriate for undergraduate instruction across a range of classes and fields of study.

“Our goal was to provide a seamless way for instructors to integrate cases into an existing course or cluster several cases together to support a broader module within a course. They might also use the

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