Rob Reich, Professor of Political Science and, by courtesy, Professor of Philosophy and of Education, Stanford
Mehran Sahami, Professor (Teaching) of Computer Science; Robert and Ruth Halperin University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, Stanford
Jeremy Weinstein, Professor of Political Science; Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Sakurako and William Fisher Family Director, Stanford Global Studies Division; Ford-Dorsey Director of African Studies, Stanford
Hilary Cohen, Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow, The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford
Offered: Winter Quarter 2019
Course website: https://techethics.stanford.edu
In 2001 Google adopted the tagline “Don’t Be Evil” to describe its corporate code of conduct. In 2015 when Google was restructured within its parent conglomerate, Alphabet, the motto was replaced by “Do the Right Thing,” which remains the corporation’s tagline today. Though particular to one company, these mottos reflect and help shape attitudes across the technology industry more broadly—even gesturing toward something like a Hippocratic Oath. Although brevity is their virtue, both mottos also raise essential questions, starting with this one: Do they set a high bar or a low bar? And, more to the point, have technologists given enough thought to the world they’re making, to the dislocations they’re enabling, and to the lives and livelihoods they are often unknowingly changing, both here at home and across the world?
Three senior Stanford faculty (a computer scientist, a political scientist, and a philosopher, all award-winning teachers) joined forces along with invited entrepreneurs, engineers, policy-makers, and investors throughout the tech community in order to ask, and perhaps to answer, some of the profound ethical questions posed by the rapidly expanding and unpredictably evolving technology sector. Among other issues, we will explore data privacy, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, algorithmic bias, the attention economy, and the power of private platforms. With each topic, we will encounter a range of perspectives, allowing us genuinely to wrestle with the tensions and trade-offs that accompany technological change.
With every new innovation, we need to ask: What does this technology enable others to do? What responsibilities does this imply for me as an innovator, a citizen, and a human being? The goal of the course is to bring about a fundamental shift in how we think about our roles as enablers and shapers of technological change in society. The course will challenge all of us to internalize a commitment to our responsibilities as innovators, designers, coders, engineers, policy-makers, citizens, and consumers.
This course falls within Stanford Continuing Studies program, the purpose of which is to “share the rich educational resources of Stanford University with adult students, to nurture a vibrant learning community, and to nourish the life of the mind.” The catalog for Stanford’s Continuing Studies program can be found here. Moreover, this course is modeled off of a newly designed version of the undergraduate class CS 181: Computers, Ethics and Public Policy, linked here, and taught by the same teaching staff.