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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Even The Data Ethics Initiatives Don't Want To Talk About Data Ethics

Kalev Leetaru
Originally posted October 23, 2018

Two weeks ago, a new data ethics initiative, the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, caught my eye. Funded by the Omidyar Network, Mozilla, Schmidt Futures and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the initiative will award up to $3.5M to “promising approaches to embedding ethics into undergraduate computer science education, empowering graduating engineers to drive a culture shift in the tech industry and build a healthier internet.” I was immediately excited about a well-funded initiative focused on seeding data ethics into computer science curricula, getting students talking about ethics from the earliest stages of their careers. At the same time, I was concerned about whether even such a high-profile effort could possibly reverse the tide of anti-data-ethics that has taken root in academia and what impact it could realistically have in a world in which universities, publishers, funding agencies and employers have largely distanced themselves from once-sacrosanct data ethics principles like informed consent and the right to opt out. Surprisingly, for an initiative focused on evangelizing ethics, the Challenge declined to answer any of the questions I posed it regarding how it saw its efforts as changing this. Is there any hope left for data ethics when the very initiatives designed to help teach ethics don’t want to talk about ethics?

On its surface, the Responsible Computer Science Challenge seems a tailor-built response to a public rapidly awakening to the incredible damage unaccountable platforms have wreaked upon society. The Challenge describes its focus as “supporting the conceptualization, development, and piloting of curricula that integrate ethics with undergraduate computer science training, educating a new wave of engineers who bring holistic thinking to the design of technology products.”

The info is here.