Ethics of Algorithms

Technical.ly Philly interview

Award Abstract #1338205
NSF EESE: The Ethics of Algorithms

2013-2017

ABSTRACT

This project will investigate the ethics and values of the computer scientists, information scientists, and software engineers who create algorithms. The research will contribute to the study of ethics and values in science and engineering in four key ways. First, it will bridge silos between philosophical and social scientific approaches to ethics to develop an integrated theoretical approach which simultaneously identifies the analytical, moral reasoning that is happening during the conceptualization and design phase as well as critically analyzes the interplay between an individual’s personal ethics and values and the ethics and values created by aspects of policies, institutional, economic, and cultural contexts. Second, the work will further the literature on information ethics by taking an upstream approach that focuses on the design process. The literature concerned with the ethical use of information technology and computer science often focuses on the outcomes of these endeavors; switching the analytical lens, the PI will join a small but growing literature that addresses ethical questions at the design stage. Third, the research will provide an empirical contribution to information science given its investigation of the intersection of people, technology design and knowledge. Finally, by focusing on algorithms, the project will contribute to broader discussions about ethics, values, and big data; algorithms are the driving technique behind the creation of big data sets, yet there is little talk about the decisions and values that shape algorithm design and thus impact big data content.

Broader Impacts: The interrelationship between algorithms and big data is a timely and important topic for investigation. This research will open the black box of algorithmic design in order to provide more transparency for public discussion and debate on the implications of this new way of organizing knowledge and social life. Project outcomes will include a series of provocative images, concepts, and scenarios (to be presented in a well-designed series of cards), to impact graduate students in computer science, information science, and engineering. The PI plans to work with professional organizations such as the Association of Computing Machinery [ACM] and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility [CPSR] to address a wider range of issues in the professional code of ethics.