EAGER: Teaching Computer Ethics through Literature

Grants and Contracts Details


PROJECT SUMMARY Overview: %As developments in technology offer new frontiers of possibility, asking and answering basic %ethical questions becomes an unavoidable dimension of our work in computer science. Teaching %students how to engage with the ethical questions they will face in their professional careers %is essential. It is incumbent on computer science programs, as borne out by the ABET requirement %for ethics training, to educate both students and the general public about the ethical issues %surrounding the creation and use of technology. In past work, and current teaching we have %advocated for the use of science fiction (SF) as an appropriate pedagogical tool that enables %teachers to engage students and the public on the current state and potential impacts of AI %and other technology. The most significant difficulty we have encountered in this course is %in tracking down appropriate and easily accessible fiction. This puts a burden on the professor %to find short stories or novels that touch on the desired ethical issues, are easily available %for students, are engaging to students with a wide range of literary preferences, and will %reward the studentÕs attention by furnishing them with complex and multifaceted treatments %of the relevant issues. These challenges create an extremely high barrier to entry for anyone %wishing to teach CS ethics using SF. In addition, we have had to rely on multiple ethics %textbooks and related articles to cover the broad range of topics, from carebots and weaponized %AI to professional ethics. %We propose to collect, edit, and publish an ethics textbook that includes an anthology of %high-quality SF stories that pose ethical issues related to the computing professions. The %book will include stories, text covering ethical theories, reading guides, and pointers to %related media. We will also include guides for instructors on how to lead discussion on the %stories and project ideas for the students. Overview: Our research goals are (1) to make the critical resources of ethics intelligible to CS students, not as a body of facts but as a set of analytic and evaluative tools, and (2) to teach, and enable others to teach, this material in ways that help our students develop critical faculties of ethical thinking, and persuade them that is both helpful and relevant to them to continue to use these critical faculties beyond the classroom. We will use literature, particularly science fiction (SF), to engage students and the public on the ethical issues that arise from the current state and potential impacts of computer technology. Intellectual Merit : The intellectual merit of this work comes from integrating the sub-discipline of ethics that is concerned with personal formation and education --- how to influence people so that they are willing and able to live according to the values of an ethical system --- into the pedagogy of CS ethics. We are committed to training students to use multiple frames of inquiry, and help them understand the strengths and limitations of each, not indoctrinating anybody into a particular system. We will use every available resource, from across multiple disciplines and intellectual traditions, to engage the students in deep ethical inquiry. Our approach will help them move them beyond assigning critical terms to their existing opinions and push them to reevaluate not only their solutions to particular challenges, but their descriptions of those challenges and the questions raised therein. SF will serve as a springboard to a mode of critical ethical engagement that is both possible and necessary for the students. We will create and provide, through our textbook, articles, and presentations, analyses of stories that bring to bear the rich intellectual tradition of ethical readings of literature as well as a deep and practical understanding of computer science, and the role of technology in society. Broader Impacts : There are two main broader impacts of this work. The first is the creation of a firm foundation in the pedagogies of ethics, literature, and engineering for the teaching of computer ethics. Along with this careful reformulation of the traditional computer ethics course, we will produce a textbook, as a means of making this approach broadly available to faculty not trained in teaching ethics, much less literature. Creating a textbook for the course an pedagogical guides for the included stories will significantly lower the barrier for entry, allowing instructors at many institutions to teach computer science ethics in a more engaging way, and ultimately, helping more computer scientists think deeply about the ethical issues of our profession. The second impact is leveraging the engaging nature of SF, and our textbook, to increase the visibility and accessibility of computer ethics within and outside the computer science community. We will be targeting several outreach communities: CS instructors who want to teach ethics; students throughout the university who take the course; the SF reading and writing communities, and the general public.
Effective start/end date8/15/167/31/18


  • National Science Foundation: $151,802.00


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