Projects  |    |  August 8, 2016

NSF Award: EAGER: Teaching Computer Ethics through Literature

National Science Foundation Award #1646887.
Investigator: Judith Goldsmith. Sponsor: University of Kentucky Research Foundation.


The goal of this exploratory project is to make the critical resources of ethics intelligible to Computer Science students, not as a body of facts but as a set of analytic and evaluative tools, and thereby to enable the teaching of this material in ways that help students develop critical faculties of ethical thinking and persuade them that it is both helpful and relevant to them to continue to use these critical faculties beyond the classroom. To these ends, the PI will use literature, particularly science fiction, to engage students on the ethical issues that arise from the current state and potential impacts of computer technology. Project outcomes will include a textbook and associated teaching guides containing analyses of stories that bring to bear the rich intellectual tradition of ethical readings of literature as well as a deep and practical understanding of computer science and the role of technology in society. These materials will be firmly rooted in the pedagogies of ethics, literature, and engineering, and will enable the larger computer science community to teach ethics from a novel, interdisciplinary, and more inclusive perspective. Perhaps of equal importance, this reformulation of the traditional computer ethics course will enable faculty not trained in teaching ethics to successfully do so and thus will significantly lower the barrier for entry, allowing instructors at many institutions to teach computer science ethics in a more engaging way, which ultimately will help more computer scientists think deeply about the ethical issues of their profession.

The PI and her team will develop an ethics textbook that offers a comprehensive curriculum for teaching computer science ethics through the reading of science fiction, which integrates an in-depth knowledge of ethics with the particular concerns and challenges that confront computer scientists today. The textbook will include an anthology of high-quality science fiction stories that pose ethical issues related to the technology development professions including engineering and computer science. These stories will be prefaced and accompanied by newly-produced critical material on ethics that is designed to help STEM-oriented students absorb the ethical theory. This novel material will use the included stories as a means of training students to use ethical theory to recognize, understand and evaluate complex problems. The team will also produce guides for instructors that synthesize pedagogical strategies from literature and philosophy with the teaching methods of computer science, to help instructors help their students get the most out of the stories. The creation of the book will offer a fundamental shift in how ethics can be taught in computer science and engineering courses, thereby laying the groundwork for future studies in the efficacy of teaching ethics from a novel interdisciplinary perspective.

  • Start Date: August 15, 2016
  • End Date: July 31, 2018 (Estimated)
  • Amount: $151,802.00

Publications Produced as a Result of This Research

  • Siler, Cory and Miles, Luke Harold and Goldsmith, Judy. “The Complexity of Campaigning,” Algorithmic Decision Theory 2017, 2017
  • Goldsmith, Judy and Burton, Emanuelle. “Why Teaching Ethics to AI Practitioners is Important,” Proceedings of the … AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 2017
  • Siler, Cory. “Tiered Coalition Formation Games,” FLAIRS 2017, 2017
  • Erdelyi, Olivia and Goldsmith, Judy. “Regulating Artificial Intelligence Proposal for a Global Solution,” AAAI/ACM Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Ethics and Society, 2018
  • Burton, Emanuelle and Goldsmith, Judy and Mattei, Nicholas. “How to Teach Computer Ethics with Science Fiction,” Communications of the ACM, 2018
  • Burton, Emanuelle and Goldsmith, Judy and Mattei, Nicholas. “How to teach computer ethics through science fiction,” Communications of the ACM, v.61, 2018.  doi:10.1145/3154485 
  • Burton, Emanuelle and Clayville, Kristel and Goldsmith, Judy and Mattei, Nicholas. “The Heart of the Matter: Patient Autonomy as a Model for the Wellbeing of Technology Users,” AAAI Spring Symposium 2018, 2018
  • Burton, Emanuelle and Goldsmith, Judy and Koenig, Sven and Kuipers, Benjami and Mattei, Nicholas and Walsh, Toby. “Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence Courses,” AI magazine, 2017
  • Burton, Emanuelle and Goldsmith, Judy and Koenig, Sven and Kuipers, Benjamin and Mattei, Nicholas and Walsh, Toby. “Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence Courses,” AI magazine, v.38, 2017