Recently, a group of faculty and students gathered at New York University before the annual FAT* conference to discuss the promises and challenges of teaching data science ethics, and to learn from one another's experiences in the classroom. This blog post is the first of two which will summarize the discussions had at this workshop. There is general agreement that data science ethics should be taught, but less consensus about what its goals should be or how they should be pursued. Because the field is so nascent, there is substantial room for innovative thinking about what data science ethics ought to mean. In some respects, its goal may be the creation of "future citizens" of data science who are invested in the welfare of their communities and the world, and understand the social and political role of data science therein.
The future of artificial intelligence (AI) is here: self-driving cars, grocery-delivering drones and voice assistants like Alexa that control more and more of our lives, from the locks on our front doors to the temperatures of our homes. For example, should an autonomous vehicle swerve into a pedestrian or stay its course when facing a collision? These questions plague technology companies as they develop AI at a clip outpacing government regulation, and have led Seattle University to develop a new ethics course for the public. Launched last week, the free, online course for businesses is the first step in a Microsoft-funded initiative to merge ethics and technology education at the Jesuit university. Seattle U senior business-school instructor Nathan Colaner hopes the new course will become a well-known resource for businesses "as they realize that [AI] is changing things," he said.
This summer, the FaceApp debate exploded on social media, as people questioned the motives of the Russian engineers behind the technology that scanned millions of people's faces, with no indication of what happened to the data given to the app. Privacy is presumably top of mind for the general public, but people's urge to literally see the face of their own future selves seemed to outweigh that threat. FaceApp may serve no benefit beyond entertainment. But today, every company effectively becomes a tech company by leveraging advanced data analytics to fuel their business. With nearly every service, gadget, and add-on, we are constantly being asked to put our trust--in the form of our personal data--in brands, big and small.