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Tech’s Ethical ‘Dark Side’: Harvard, Stanford and Others Want to Address It

03TECHETHICS-3-master675This semester, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. The University of Texas at Austin just introduced a course titled “Ethical Foundations of Computer Science” — with the idea of eventually requiring it for all computer science majors.

And at Stanford University, the academic heart of the industry, three professors and a research fellow are developing a computer science ethics course for next year. They hope several hundred students will enroll.

The idea is to train the next generation of technologists and policymakers to consider the ramifications of innovations — like autonomous weapons or self-driving cars — before those products go on sale.

“Technology is not neutral,” said Professor Sahami, who formerly worked at Google as a senior research scientist. “The choices that get made in building technology then have social ramifications.”

“It was really focused on trying to help them understand what in their everyday practice as a data scientist they are likely to confront, and to help them think through those challenges more systematically,” said Solon Barocas, an assistant professor in information science who taught the course.

The curriculum also covers the spread of algorithmic risk scores that use data — like whether a person was ever suspended from school, or how many of his or her friends have arrest records — to forecast whether someone is likely to commit a crime.

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