Why We’re Crowd-Sourcing Ethical Tech Education

There is no question that we are in crisis — digital technology is moving everywhere and impacting everyone, yet the conversations and decisions about technology’s innovation, consumption, and regulation remain largely homogeneous and remarkably exclusive.

Algorithms are impacting prison sentencing, welfare distribution, and the policing of communities. Genetic engineering promises to eliminate diseases while potentially enabling powerful biological weapons and the manipulation of what makes us human. The Internet delivers economic opportunities to the disadvantaged and gives a voice to the historically voiceless while also enabling pervasive surveillance, behavioral manipulation, and human rights abuses. Technology brings good and bad; it amplifies and diminishes at once.

Amidst this change, most of us are left out of the conversations and general decision-making process — especially those who are most adversely impacted by these developments. In part, this is because education programs, from primary schools to universities to online coursework, have largely failed to teach the world’s populations about technology and its ethical dimensions.

How does the Internet work? How does social media impact our mental health? Why are computer algorithms currently amplifying societal inequalities? What happens when online speech goes unregulated? These are just some of the topics about which we need to spread awareness.

That’s why at Ethical Tech, Dr. Aria Chernik and I have started a project to crowd-source an “Ethical Tech 101” college class curriculum. Our ultimate goal is to turn this outline into a course available in both digital form (e.g., Coursera) and physical form (e.g., at universities). We’re also going to open source this curriculum for the world to freely and publicly access, share, and build upon. Our world is in dire need of ethical tech education, and this is just one step in our contributions to that effort.

For all those that are interested in contributing, we have a short, two-question survey we’re asking people to fill out — simply asking what topics and resources should be included in an “Ethical Tech 101” class. The link is here.

We’re not crowd-sourcing topics and resources because we don’t have our own ideas; we absolutely do, and our friends, advisors, and collaborators would certainly provide enough information and expertise to develop a class on our own. Instead, we want to make sure we’re avoiding gaps and minimizing the impact of our own biases. After all, if you work together — or work in similar areas — it’s all too easy to forget about a topic, exclude a perspective, or never see a new angle on the issue. And since so many problems with technology, arguably, come from the homogeneity and exclusivity of the conversations and decisions about its innovation, consumption, and regulation, we need to avoid those same issues as much as possible too.

Check out our request for collaboration, and help us educate the world!


Justin Sherman is a student at Duke University and the Co-Founder and Vice President of social venture Ethical Tech (@ethicaltechorg).

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 372,747 people.

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