Abstract:Barbara Grosz has a fantasy that every time a computer scientist logs on to write an algorithm or build a system, a message will flash across the screen that asks, “Have you thought about the ethical implications of what you’re doing?”
Until that day arrives, Grosz, the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), is working to instill in the next generation of computer scientists a mindset that considers the societal impact of their work, and the ethical reasoning and communications skills to do so.
“Ethics permeates the design of almost every computer system or algorithm that’s going out in the world,” Grosz said. “We want to educate our students to think not only about what systems they could build, but whether they shouldbuild those systems and how they should design those systems.”
At a time when computer science departments around the country are grappling with how to turn out graduates who understand ethics as well as algorithms, Harvard is taking a novel approach.