Ok, so maybe that title was a bit dramatic, but I found an amazing article called Hey Computer Scientists! Stop Hating Humanities (linked below) that really hits on a lot of what I think worries us about the growing use of technology.
The article is written by a computer science PhD student. She starts off by discussing the dynamic in Silicon Valley and the emphasis placed on computer engineering. She then goes on to discuss some chilling coding projects she’s been given while explaining the danger of isolating these projects from their greater context. For example, she discusses military scientists who design new weapons with great enthusiasm but never think about who the weapons are being used on or whether or not they even believe those weapons should be used. Here’s a passage that really resonated with me:
“Should I write a computer program that will download the communications of thousands of teenagers suffering from eating disorders posted on an anorexia advice website? Write a program to post anonymous, suicidal messages on hundreds of college forums to see which colleges offer the most support? My answer to these questions, incidentally, was “no”. But I considered it. And the glory and peril of computers is that they magnify the impact of your whims: an impulse becomes a program that can hurt thousands of people.”
She contacted the top 8 undergrad programs in computer science and found that most do not have any requirements on ethical or social issues in computer science, although some do offer them. She suggests that a more socially conscious curriculum would make coders less likely to do harm, and, ideally, more likely to do good. I thought this was also interesting since, in our higher ed cohort, we’ve often discussed whether students should be “made” to take classes. She also suggests more diversity in hiring processes. Specifically, she states that companies should hire people that their products typically harm or exclude. She also suggests hiring non-computer scientists to come in and give talks.
So, while this article was definitely a stark contrast from my last post and I found that passage rather terrifying, the fact that the author is exploring these societal problems within the context of coding was encouraging. I think this is really extreme version of what we’ve been saying all along: technology is great, as long as it’s supplemental and not in place of human interaction. The human component seems even more important on such a large scale.