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The Ethics of Technology: Privacy, Biased Algorithms, and Moral Robots

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Course Description

This discussion-based class surveys a range of ethical (broadly construed) issues arising from emerging technologies. In doing so, the course also aims to sharpen students' skills at critical thinking, analysis, and argumentation. The issues we'll discuss include:

- Privacy

Privacy I: It's common to hear worries about privacy in internet and data ethics. What might such worries be about, in more concrete terms? Are we always talking about the same thing, when we claim to be worried about privacy? And why, most fundamentally, do we care about privacy? Suppose, for instance, that data about us is collected, but in such a way that we aren't identifiable: is our privacy nevertheless still threatened?

Privacy II: Do social media companies (such as Facebook) have a moral obligation to suppress the spread of fake news over their networks? Is the suppression of fake news by social media companies a form of censorship? Is censorship ever morally permissible --- and if so, under what conditions?

- Bias and discrimination

Do emerging technologies like Big Data increase inequality or be unfair, and if so, how? In what way might the algorithms driving decisions behind the scenes be biased or discriminatory? (And what is it to discriminate?)

- Building ethical robots (and autonomous systems)

How do we build autonomous systems that behave ethically (as far as it is possible for them to do so)? Should we go for programs that derive their own rules by learning from experience (but whose rules it may not be possible for us be sure of)? Or should we instead use only programs with explicitly formulated rules (but which may not be able to adapt to changing environments)?

Prerequisites: No prerequisites are required, though students should be prepared to put in intellectual effort.

				

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPL0938
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information

Summer@Brown

Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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