Nebraska creates embedded ethics program for computer scientists and engineers, with support from CTT grant and Delmas Foundation.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has become the first land-grant, state university to successfully develop an embedded ethics program into its computer science and engineering program. This was made possible due to a grant from the Center for Transformative Teaching Grant and the help of Adam Thompson, director of the Kutak Ethics Center and philosophy lecturer, and Colton Harper, a graduate student. They used the model from Harvard as a template and recruited a diverse group of graduate student teaching assistants from the philosophy department to serve as the teachers for the module.
The program was created to help computer scientists and engineers understand the potential risks and ethical implications of their work. Students were made aware of potential malicious use, unintentional bias of artificial intelligence, misrepresentation with deepfakes, privacy eroding tracking software, and data collection used in targeted algorithms.
At the conclusion of the module, students showed concern about causing as little harm as possible in the field of computer science and engineering. They were also interested in understanding the political implications of their work, such as how the seemingly trivial information gathered through things like social media or eye-tracking software might be used to disenfranchise or discriminate against portions of the population.
The team was able to create the foundation of an embedded ethics program that will be moving forward at the university after receiving a $20,000 grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Charitable Foundation. They are now working to publicize the lessons they’ve learned implementing the program at UNL so that other similarly placed institutions can more easily develop a program that fits their needs.
The embedded ethics program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is a great example of how technology can be used for good. It is essential that computer scientists and engineers are aware of the potential risks and ethical implications of their work, as well as the political implications of the data they collect. The program created at UNL is a great starting point for other similarly placed institutions to create their own embedded ethics program.