Omidyar Network and Partners Award $2.47M for Promising Ways to Advance Ethical Computer Science Curricula
Winners Include Public, Private, and Jesuit Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, and a Community College
REDWOOD CITY, CA — Today, Omidyar Network, Mozilla, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies announced $2.47 million in funding for 17 US undergraduate efforts to embed ethical thinking into their computer science programs. Winners of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge (#ResponsibleCS) represent a broad range of academic institutions from across the country—including public, private and Jesuit universities, liberal arts colleges, and a community college. Responsive to growing concerns across the tech industry, partners hope to equip a new generation of technologists with the skills needed to create products that have robust guardrails around responsibility and accountability.
The winners’ proposed curricula are innovative: They include in-class role-playing games to explore the impact of technology on society. They embed philosophy experts and social scientists in computer science classes. They feature “red teams” that probe students’ projects for possible negative societal impacts. And they include facilitating partnerships between computer science students and local nonprofits and governmental agencies.
“Revamping training for the next generation of technologists is critical to changing the way tech is built now and into the future,” says Yoav Schlesinger, a principal at Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Lab who is co-leading the Challenge. “We are impressed with the quality of submissions and even more pleased to see such outstanding proposals awarded funding as part of Stage I of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge. With these financial resources, we are confident that winners will go on to develop exciting, innovative coursework that will be not only implemented at their home institutions, but also scaled to additional colleges and universities across the country."
Launched in October 2018, the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, incubated at Omidyar Network, is part of the organization’s growing efforts to mitigate the unintended consequences of technology on our social fabric, and to ensure products are responsibly designed and brought to market. Another Omidyar Network collaboration, the Ethical OS toolkit (#EthicalOS), aims to help the technology industry incorporate an ethical framework into product design decisions.
“Today’s computer scientists write code with the potential to affect billions of people’s privacy, security, equality, and well-being,” says Kathy Pham, a computer scientist and Mozilla Fellow who is co-leading the Challenge. “These 17 winners recognize that power, and take crucial steps to work across disciplines and integrate ethics and responsibility into core courses, like introduction to programming, algorithms, compilers, computer architecture, neutral networks, and data structures. By deeply integrating ethics into computer science curricula and sharing the content openly, we can create more responsible technology from the start.”
Stage I winners will each receive up to $150,000 to develop and pilot their ideas. Winners will then go on to participate in Stage II for continued funding up to $200,000 to spread and scale the most promising approaches. In total, the Challenge will award up to $3.5 million in prizes.
The winners include: (School | Location | Principal Investigator)
- Allegheny College | Meadville, PA | Oliver Bonham-Carter
While studying fields like artificial intelligence and data analytics, students will investigate potential ethical and societal challenges. For example: They might interrogate how medical data is analyzed, used, or secured. Lessons will include relevant readings, hands-on activities, and talks from experts in the field.
- Bemidji State University | Bemidji, MN | Marty J. Wolf, Colleen Greer
The university will lead workshops that guide faculty at other institutions in developing and implementing responsible computer science teaching modules. The workshops will convene not just computer science faculty but also social science and humanities faculty.
- Bowdoin College | Brunswick, ME | Stacy Doore
Computer science students will participate in “ethical narratives laboratories,” where they experiment with and test the impact of technology on society. These laboratories will include transformative engagement with real and fictional narratives, including case studies, science fiction readings, films, shows, and personal interviews.
- Columbia University | New York, NY | Augustin Chaintreau
This approach integrates ethics directly into the computer science curriculum, rather than making it a stand-alone course. Students will consult and engage with an “ethical companion” that supplements a typical course textbook, allowing ethics to be addressed immediately alongside key concepts. The companion provides examples, case studies, and problem sets that connect ethics with topics like computer vision and algorithm design.
- Georgetown University | Washington, DC | Nitin Vaidya
Georgetown’s computer science department will collaborate with the school’s Ethics Lab to create interactive experiences that illuminate how ethics and computer science interact. The goal is to introduce a series of active-learning engagements across a semester-long arc to selected courses in the computer science curriculum.
- Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA | Ellen Zegura
This approach embeds social responsibility into the computer science curriculum, starting with the introductory courses. Students will engage in role-playing games (RPGs) to examine how a new technology might impact the public. For example: how facial recognition or self-driving cars might affect a community.
- Harvard University | Cambridge, MA | Barbara Grosz
Harvard will expand the open-access resources of its Embedded EthiCS program, which pairs computer science faculty with philosophy PhD students to develop ethical reasoning modules that are incorporated into courses throughout the computer science curriculum. Computer science postdocs will augment module development through the designing of activities that are relevant to students' future technology careers.
- Miami Dade College | Miami, FL | Antonio Delgado
The college will integrate social impact projects and collaborations with local nonprofits and government agencies into the computer science curriculum. Computer science syllabi will also be updated to include ethics exercises and assignments.
- Northeastern University | Boston, MA | Christo Wilson
This initiative will embed an ethics component into the university’s computer science, cybersecurity, and data science programs. The ethics component will include lectures, discussion prompts, case studies, exercises, and more. Students will also have access to a philosophy faculty advisor with expertise in information and data ethics.
- Santa Clara University | Santa Clara, CA | Sukanya Manna, Shiva Houshmand, Subramaniam Vincent
This initiative will help computer science students develop a deliberative ethical analysis framework that complements their technical learning. It will develop software engineering ethics, cybersecurity ethics, and data ethics modules, with the integration of case studies and projects. These modules will also be adapted into free MOOC materials, so other institutions worldwide can benefit from the curriculum.
- University of California, Berkeley | Berkeley, CA | James Demmel, Cathryn Carson
This initiative integrates a “Human Contexts and Ethics Toolkit” into the computer science/data science curriculum. The toolkit helps students discover when and how their work intersects with social power structures. For example: bias in data collection, privacy impacts, and algorithmic decision making.
- University at Buffalo | Buffalo, NY | Atri Rudra
In this initiative, freshmen studying computer science will discuss ethics in the first-year seminar “How the Internet Works.” Sophomores will study responsible algorithmic development for real-world problems. Juniors will study the ethical implications of machine learning. And seniors will incorporate ethical thinking into their capstone course.
- University of California, Davis | Davis, CA | Annamaria (Nina) Amenta, Gerardo Con Díaz, and Xin Liu
Computer science students will be exposed to social science and humanities while pursuing their major, culminating in a "conscientious" senior project. The project will entail developing technology while assessing its impact on inclusion, privacy, and other factors, and there will be opportunities for projects with local nonprofits or government agencies.
- University of Colorado, Boulder | Boulder, CO | Casey Fiesler
This initiative integrates an ethics component into introductory programming classes, and features an “ethics fellows program” that embeds students with an interest in ethics into upper division computer science and technical classes.
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County | Baltimore, MD | Helena Mentis
This initiative uses three avenues to integrate ethics into the computer science curriculum: peer discussions on how technologies might affect different populations; negative implications evaluations, i.e., “red teams” that probe the potential negative societal impacts of students’ projects; and a training program to equip teaching assistants with ethics and equality literacy.
- University of Utah | Salt Lake City, UT | Suresh Venkatasubramanian, Sorelle A. Friedler (Haverford College), Seny Kamara (Brown University)
Computer science students will be encouraged to apply problem solving and critical thinking not just to design algorithms, but also to investigate the societal issues that their algorithms intersect with. For example: When studying bitcoin mining algorithms, students will focus on energy usage and environmental impact. The curriculum will be developed with the help of domain experts who have expertise in sustainability, surveillance, criminal justice, and other issue areas.
- Washington University | St. Louis, MO | Ron Cytron
Computer science students will participate in “studio sessions,” or group discussions that unpack how their technical education and skills intersect with issues like individual privacy, data security, and biased algorithms.
Projects were judged by an external review committee of 19 independent judges from universities, community organizations, and the tech industry. Judges deliberated over the course of three weeks.
To learn more about the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, visit: www.ResponsibleCS.org.
Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Solutions Lab draws on Omidyar Network’s long-standing belief in the promise of technology to create opportunity and social good, as well as the concern about the unintended consequences that can result from technological innovation.
The Responsible Computer Science Challenge is part of Mozilla’s mission to empower the people and projects on the front lines of internet health work. Learn more about Mozilla Awards.
Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative, founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, that seeks to improve societal outcomes through the thoughtful development of emerging science and technologies that can benefit humanity. As a venture facility for public benefit, they invest risk capital in the most promising ideas and exceptional people across disciplines. Learn more at schmidtfutures.com.
Craig Newmark Philanthropies was created by craigslist founder Craig Newmark to support and connect people and drive broad civic engagement. The organization works to advance people and grassroots organizations that are getting stuff done in areas that include trustworthy journalism, voter protection, gender diversity in technology, and veterans and military families. For more information, please visit: CraigNewmarkPhilanthropies.org.
About Omidyar Network
Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. Established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, the organization has committed more than $1 billion to innovative for-profit companies and non-profit organizations to catalyse economic and social change. To learn more, visit www.omidyar.com, and follow on Twitter @omidyarnetwork #PositiveReturns.