Home → Magazine Archive → August 2018 (Vol. 61, No. 8) → How to Teach Computer Ethics through Science Fiction → Abstract

How to Teach Computer Ethics through Science Fiction

By Emanuelle Burton, Judy Goldsmith, Nicholas Mattei

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61 No. 8, Pages 54-64
10.1145/3154485

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Computer science faculty have a responsibility to teach students to recognize both the larger ethical issues and particular responsibilities that are part and parcel of their work as technologists. This is, however, a kind of teaching for which most of us have not been trained, and that faculty and students approach with some trepidation. In this article, we explore the use of science fiction as a tool to enable those teaching artificial intelligence to engage students and practitioners about the scope and implications of current and future work in computer science. We have spent several years developing a creative approach to teaching computer ethics, through a course we call "Science Fiction and Computer Ethics."7,8,9,18,28 The course has been taught five times at the University of Kentucky and two times at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been successful with students, as evidenced by increasing and full enrollments; high teaching-evaluation numbers; positive anonymous comments from students; nominations and awards for good teaching; and invitations to speak about the course on conference panels and in talks.

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Computer science, as a field, already recognizes that some ethics education is essential; the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (http://www.abet.org/), one of the largest U.S.-based accreditors of engineering and technology programs, requires instruction on professional ethics. Indeed, some in computer science have gone so far as to require students in undergraduate courses to perform ethics consultations for local industry.24 However, educating students to engage ethical challenges is often left to the cross-disciplinary portions of university curricula, especially in the U.S.12 We, as well as others, argue that spending time focused on how these issues apply to both our own research and our students' future work is important and necessary within computer science.30,36

2 Comments

Michael Will

Not one mention of Isaac Asimov - strange.
"The Asimovian Epoch" http://www.scidata.ca/?p=763

Fakrudeen Ali Ahmed

Authors lost me when they said:
"The very idea of a universally applicable ethical doctrine has serious problems ... protest of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the declarationalthough intended "to be applicable to all human beings ... [is] conceived only in terms of the values prevalent in countries of Western Europe and America."

I am reminded of what Napier [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_James_Napier] said of Sati:

"Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

No - morality is not relative, post modernist concept. Killing or Slavery is wrong, absolutely wrong irrespective of the culture doing it and for the record I am from the country which practised Sati few centuries back.

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