The state of a new pedagogical field
Technology companies are coming under increased scrutiny for the ethical consequences of their work, and some have formed advisory boards or hired ethicists on staff. (Google's AI ethics board quickly disintegrated.) Another approach is to train computer scientists in ethics before they enter the labor market. But how should that training—which must combine practice and theory across disciplines—be structured, who should teach the courses, and what should they teach?
This month’s cover story of the Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery describes the Embedded EthiCS program at Harvard. (David Gray Grant, a JFI fellow since 2018, and Lily Hu, a new JFI fellow, are co-authors, along with Barbara J. Grosz, Kate Vredenburgh, Jeff Behrends, Alison Simmons, and Jim Waldo.) The article explains the advantages of their approach, wherein philosophy PhD students and postdocs teach modules in computer science classes:
"In contrast to stand-alone computer ethics or computer-and-society courses, Embedded EthiCS employs a distributed pedagogy that makes ethical reasoning an integral component of courses throughout the standard computer science curriculum. It modifies existing courses rather than requiring wholly new courses. Students learn ways to identify ethical implications of technology and to reason clearly about them while they are learning ways to develop and implement algorithms, design interactive systems, and code. Embedded EthiCS thus addresses shortcomings of stand-alone courses. Furthermore, it compensates for the reluctance of STEM faculty to teach ethics on their own by embedding philosophy graduate students and postdoctoral fellows into the teaching of computer science courses."
A future research direction is to examine "the approach's impact over the course of years, for instance, as students complete their degrees and even later in their careers."
Link to the full article.
- Shannon Vallor and Arvind Narayanan have a free ethics module anyone can use in a CS course. View it here. A Stephanie Wykstra piece in the Nation on the state of DE pedagogy notes that the module has been used at 100+ universities. Link.
- In February 2018, we wrote about Casey Fiesler’s spreadsheet of tech ethics curricula, which has gotten even more comprehensive, including sample codes of ethics and other resources. Jay Hodges’s comment is still relevant for many of the curricula: "Virtually every discipline that deals with the social world – including, among others, sociology, social work, history, women’s studies, Africana studies, Latino/a studies, urban studies, political science, economics, epidemiology, public policy, and law – addresses questions of fairness and justice in some way. Yet the knowledge accumulated by these fields gets very little attention in these syllabi." Link to that 2018 letter.
- At MIT, JFI fellow Abby Everett Jacques teaches "Ethics of Technology." An NPR piece gives a sense of the students' experiences. Link.
New Researchers: INSTITUTION CONTRAST
The development of Myanmar's industrial relations system
In her dissertation, PhD candidate JINYOUNG PARK recounts the development of corporatism during Myanmar's transition out of five decades of dictatorship. Her research considers the promotion of corporatism by the International Labor Organization, as well as its role in suppressing the ability of unions to exercise political power.
From the introduction:
"The transition away from authoritarian rule in Myanmar has led to a highly complex interplay between militant and corporatist labor strategies, and domestic and international actors. Compared to other Asian countries experiencing transition, where a political pro-labor power shift or militant mobilization of workers preceded the adoption of corporatism into discourse and IR institutions, Myanmar's military-backed civilian government built IR institutions as a part of reforms and corporatism was the theoretical framework underpinning these institutions, in the form of tripartite structures in which unions and employers have consultative status on labor policies."
Link to the paper.
Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you'd like to see shared here? Send it our way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- JFI fellow Francis Tseng has a new post up on Phenomenal World, which examines the politics of peer-to-peer internet technologies: "I consider whether infrastructural decentralization is an effective way to counter existing regimes of political centralization. The cyber-utopian dream failed to account for the exogenous pressures that would shape the internet—rosy narratives of infrastructural decentralization seem to be making a similar misstep." Link.
- In response to Marshall Steinbaum's recent Phenomenal World post and working paper on student debt and the racial wealth inequality, Louise Seamster blogs at scatterplot on some differences in their analysis that hinge on how to measure the wealth gap. Link to Seamster's post.
- "We find that conditions to privatize state-owned enterprises exert significant detrimental effects on corruption control." Bernhard Reinsberg, Thomas Stubbs, Alexander Kentikelenis, and Lawrence King on the impact of IMF conditionalities in emerging economies. Link.
- JW Mason on government debt. Link.
- For the data labor files: a community based movement called the YouTubers Union, which strives to advocate for content creators on the platform, has joined forces with Europe's largest trade union, IG Metall in Germany. Link to coverage in Vice, link to the partnership's site, FairTube.
- At VoxEU, Jan Mischke, Hans‐Helmut Kotz, and Jacques Bughin consider labor’s declining share of income in light of supercycles, boom-bust effects, and rising depreciation. Link.
- Via Brad DeLong: "Perfect Capitalism, Imperfect Humans: Race, Migration, and the Limits of Ludwig von Mises's Globalism" by Quinn Slobodian. Link.
- Leah Brooks and Zachary Liscow study the costs of infrastructure spending over time: "We provide suggestive evidence of the determinants of the increase in spending per mile. In particular, the increased spending per mile coincides with the rise of 'citizen voice' in government decision-making in the early 1970s. And rising incomes and housing prices nearly completely statistically explain the increase in costs. We also largely rule out several common explanations for rising costs, such as increases in per-unit labor or materials prices. " Link.
- Via Dan Simpson at StatModeling, an article by Jim Hodges on statistical models and experimentation: "Why do we, as a discipline, have so little understanding of the methods we have created and promote?" Link to the paper, link to Simpson's (brief) post on it.
- From Naked Keynesianism: Why do we need a theory of value? Link.
- "The Bolshevik Revolution brought profound social changes to the modern world. This worker-led revolution, with aspirations far beyond the country of origin, became a threat and symbol of revolution to ruling elites around the world. The Bolshevik Revolution and the formation of Comintern effectively enhanced elites’ perceptions of a credible revolutionary threat, as it affected both the capacity and motivation of labor movements, but also the nature and interpretation of information signals, thus incentivizing policy concessions such as reduced working hours and expanded social transfer programs. We assess our argument by using original qualitative and quantitative data. First, using extensive archival resources, we document a change in perceptions of revolution, but also explicitly strategic policy concessions. Second, we use party- and union representatives at the 1919 Comintern meeting as an indicator of the credibility of the domestic revolutionary threat in cross-national analysis. We find that states facing higher revolutionary threats expanded various social policies to a much greater extent." By Magnus Rasmussen and Carl Knutsen. Link to the paper.