Announcement
Announcement

Silicon Valley Funders Issue Ambitious Challenge to Embed Ethical Thinking into Computer Science Curriculum at Colleges and Universities Nationwide

October 10, 2018

Final projects will be judged by an external review committee of academics, tech industry leaders, and others. 

REDWOOD CITY, CA — Today, Omidyar Network – the Silicon Valley impact investment firm – Mozilla, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies launched the Responsible Computer Science Challenge (#ResponsibleCS) to jump-start and scale promising approaches to integrating ethical thinking and social consideration into undergraduate computer science education. The Responsible Computer Science Challenge, incubated at Omidyar Network, will award up to USD$3.5 million in prizes to faculty who present promising approaches to embedding ethical thinking and social considerations into undergraduate Computer Science education between December 2018 and July 2020, in two phases.

Learn more about the Challenge and how to apply: www.ResponsibleCS.org

While technology offers unprecedented benefits to humanity, there is a growing consensus that more needs to be done across the tech sector to get ahead of unintended consequences before they arise. Through new and creative approaches to ethical training and curriculum, partners hope to equip a new generation of technologists with the skills needed to create products with robust guardrails around responsibility and accountability. 

“To ensure technology fulfills its potential as a positive force in the world, we are supporting the growth of a tech movement that is guided by the emerging mantra to move purposefully and fix things,” said Paula Goldman, global lead for Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Solutions Lab. “Treating ethical reflection and discernment as an opt-in sends the wrong message to computer science students: that ethical thinking can be an ancillary exploration or an afterthought, that it’s not part and parcel of making code in the first place. Our hope is that this effort helps ensure that the next generation of tech leaders is deeply connected to the societal implications of the products they build.”

Projects will be judged by an independent, external review committee of 20 academics, tech industry leaders, and others, who will use evaluation criteria developed jointly by Omidyar Network and Mozilla. Judges include Bobby Schnabel, professor of computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder and former president of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, Mary L. Gray, senior researcher at Microsoft Research, fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, and associate professor in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering with affiliations in Anthropology and Gender Studies at Indiana University, Joshua Cohen, Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society at Stanford University, and Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, among others. 

“In a world where software is entwined with much of our lives, it is not enough to simply know what software can do. We must also know what software should and shouldn’t do, and train ourselves to think critically about how our code can be used,” said Kathy Pham, Mozilla Fellow. “Students of computer science go on to be the next leaders and creators in the world, and must understand how code intersects with human behavior, privacy, safety, vulnerability, equality, and many other factors of society. Just like how algorithms, data structures, and networking are core computer science classes, we are excited to work with the three other funders of this Challenge — empowering faculty to teach ethics and responsibility as an integrated core tenet of the curriculum.”

With enrollment in computer science programs on the rise – increasing by 74 percent between 2009 and 2015 – the Responsible Computer Science Challenge will give future engineers the tools they need to drive a culture shift in the tech industry and build a healthier internet. For example, many programs still lack an ethical component to their required coursework. When courses are available, they tend to be optional, intermediate, upper-level, or specialized (e.g., AI or Machine Learning ethics). At the same time, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requirement for accreditation is only that students demonstrate an understanding of professional, ethical, legal, security, and social issues or that they have an ability to make informed judgments in computing practice based on legal and ethical principles. That does not imply any coursework in ethics.    

“We must fundamentally reimagine the way we train industry’s future leaders during their undergraduate years,” added Yoav Schlesinger, project lead for the Responsible Computer Science Challenge at Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Solutions Lab. “These new educational modules will change the way technologists approach their work to help them prevent unintended consequences and maximize positive impact during their careers.”

"Information and communication technologies are transforming our economy, society, politics, and culture," said Thomas Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer, Schmidt Futures. "It is critical that we equip the next generation of computer scientists with the tools to advance the responsible development of these powerful technologies – both to maximize the upside and understand and manage the risks." 

As an engineer, when you build something, you can't predict all of the consequences of what you've made; there's always something," said Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. "Nowadays, we engineers have to understand the importance and impact of new technologies. We should aspire to create products that are fair to and respectful of people of all backgrounds, products that make life better and do no harm."

35 leaders in technology and investment – including Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and co-chair of the Economic Security Project; Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, President of StubHub and Founder of theBoardlist; Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO of Twilio; and DJ Patil, Former U.S. Chief Data Scientist and Head of Technology at Devoted Health – have articulated the need for the Responsible Computer Science Challenge in an open letter, stating that ethics in tech education “is a critically important step in advancing the industry we care about so deeply, ensuring a healthy, thriving internet and securing a bright human future.” 

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 unintended consequences that can result from technological innovation. Earlier this year, the group collaborated with Institute for the Future on the Ethical OS (#EthicalOS), an open-source toolkit to help the technology industry incorporate an ethical framework into product design decisions.

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. Other recent awards include the WINS Challenges– which aim to connect unconnected Americans – and the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund.

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.

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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 invests in and helps scale innovative organizations to catalyze economic and social change. Omidyar Network has committed more than $1 billion to for- profit companies and nonprofit organizations that foster economic advancement and encourage individual participation across multiple initiatives, including Digital Identity, Education, Emerging Tech, Financial Inclusion, Governance & Citizen Engagement, and Property Rights. You can learn more here: www.omidyar.com.

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