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29 – An Answer to Recent Critiques in Computer Ethics


Jared Moore, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, UW Seattle


In this work, I share findings from a new seminar-style course on computer ethics, taught at the University of Washington School of Computer Science in Winter 2020. Recent works in computer science and related fields have demonstrated the limitations of both the conversations around ethics and its instruction, particularly around concepts like artificial intelligence. At the same time, computing professionals have increasingly begun to navigate ethical issues in their places of employment. For example, consider recent employee actions at Google. I draw on classic work in engineering education, science and technology studies, and, through consultation with other scholars, current pedagogy in computer ethics.

This senior-level course for undergraduates unifies the aforementioned literatures with an eye for students to recognize not only the application of ethics individually and professionally, but also societally. In an active-learning setting, it offers students examples of practitioners’ individual responses with regard to societal issues, technical analyses of relevant systems, and exposure to current theory and critical perspectives. It does so through a novel set of readings, associated summaries, reading and discussion questions, in and out of classroom activities, daily and course-long learning outcomes, a multi-part course project, and a user-friendly website.

Designed to be modular and shareable, this course provides instructors, particularly those new to the literature, a means through which to overcome some of the ‘engineering mindset’ while staying abreast of developments in the field. It addresses drawbacks from previous versions (in Winter 2018 and 2019) and was produced in collaboration with Johan Michaolve of Australian National University.

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