Embedded ethics at Harvard: Harvard: bringing ethical reasoning into the computer science curriculum.

Embedded EthiCS @ Harvard: bringing ethical reasoning into the computer science curriculum.

Development of Course Modules

Course modules are developed in the Embedded EthiCS Teaching Lab.
In this weekly seminar our team of graduate and postdoctoral fellows collaborate with one another to develop and refine course modules, identify pedagogical challenges and strategies for addressing them, and research topics of mutual interest in computer ethics.

Goals of Course Modules

The Embedded EthiCS course modules teach students to...

Student meeting

identify ethical and social issues

Student discussion

reason through ethical and social issues

Student discussion

communicate their reasoned position

Student design session

design ethically and socially responsible systems

Repository of Open Source Course Modules

These modules are made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0).
Please see each module for copyright and attribution information for that module.
Course Module Ethical issue Philosophical concepts, principles, theories Course level Module author
CS 61 - Systems Programming and Machine Organization ASCII, Unicode and the Ethics of Natural Language Representation How should software developers decide what representational resources to make available to their users for use in communication? Harm and intent, Representational harms and allocative harms, Stereotypes Upper-Level Undergraduate Cat Wade
CS 109a - Introduction to Data Science Algorithmic Fairness and Recidivism Prediction What is fairness and what features of a predictive algorithm make it fair? Fairness, John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” thought experiment, Moral relevance and irrelevance, Bias, Discrimination Upper-Level Undergraduate Heather Spradley
CS 136 - Economics and Computation The Ethics of Recommender Systems What is autonomy in belief formation and why is it valuable? Autonomy, Reasonable belief, Responsible belief, Paternalism Upper-Level Undergraduate Heather Spradley
CS 146 - Computer Architecture Computer Science and Climate Change What is a normative question or statement? What is a descriptive question or statement? Distributive justice, Intergenerational justice, Moral responsibility, Positive rights (to safety, housing, etc.), Risk/benefit analysis, Normative vs Descriptive questions and statements, The Difference Principle (Rawls) Upper-Level Undergraduate Cat Wade
CS 243 - Advanced Computer Networks Tracking Censorship at the (Potential) Cost of Privacy What is censorship and can it ever be justified? Censorship, Ethical justification, Privacy, Rights, Cost benefits analysis, Consent Graduate Cat Wade
CS 263 - Systems Security The Ethics of Hacking Back Is it morally permissible for companies to "hack back" in response to a cyberattack? Stakeholder rights and interests; philosophical arguments for and against the moral permissibility of hacking back Graduate Marion Boulicault
CS 271 - Topics in Data Visualization The Ethics and Politics of Data Visualization Can data visualization ever be “objective” and what do we mean by “objective”? Feminist theory, Objectivity, Disability studies, Ethical design principles, Context Graduate Marion Boulicault
CS 279 - Research Topics in Human-Computer Interaction Making Programming Inclusive What does it mean to have a disability? Disability, and models thereof, Rights-centric ethical perspectives, Equality of Opportunity, Right to private property, Harms-centric ethical perspectives, The difference between rights and harms, Representation and representational harm Graduate Cat Wade
CS 287 - Natural Language Processing Bias and Stereotypes in Word-Embedding software What are the distinctive features of stereotypes? Bias (explicit vs. implicit), Stereotypes, Discrimination, Statistical truths vs essentialist claims, Prejudice, Representational vs. allocative harms Graduate Diana Acosta-Navas
CS 1 - Great Ideas in Computer Science Electronic Privacy Should internet service providers be able to sell information about our browsing patterns without our consent? Moral rights; electronic privacy; privacy as a private vs. public good Introductory undergraduate Diana Acosta-Navas
CS 051 - Abstraction and Design in Computation Professional responsibility and software design When are software companies morally responsible for harmful uses of their products by others? Criteria for moral responsibility    
CS 061 - Systems Programming and Machine Organization ASCII, Unicode, and the Ethics of Natural Language Representation Can the way we choose to encode natural language be harmful? Representational harm/allocative harm Introductory undergraduate Cat Wade
AM 106 - Applied Algebra The ethics of applied and theoretical research What are the moral reasons to engage in more applies vs. theoretical research (or more generally, to choose a certain kind of work)? Consequentialist vs. deontological ethical theories    
CS 109b - Introduction to Data Science II Moral considerations for data science decisions How are ethical considerations relevant to the data science process? Moral responsibility; role obligations    
CS 124 - Data Structures and Algorithms How can we design models that allocate goods and services fairly? How should we design models to allocate goods and services to individuals fairly? Fairness; procedural vs. outcome fairness; decision-making; trade-offs Upper-level undergraduate Cat Wade
CS 126 - Fairness, Privacy, and Validity in Data Diversity and equality of opportunity in automated hiring systems How should concerns about (a) meritocracy and (b) equality of opportunity affect the design of automated hiring systems? Formal and fair equality of opportunity; pro tanto moral obligation    
CS 134 - Networks Privacy in networks Facebook, Fake News, and the Ethics of Censorship Moral obligation; permission, prohibition, supererogation; utilitarianism; Mill's argument against censorship; Mill's harm principle Upper-level undergraduate David Gray Grant
CS 136 - Economics and Computation Recommender systems and preferences What is morally good about satisfying individuals' preferences? Utilitarianism (Harsayni) vs. Scanlon on the value of choice    
CS 145/245 - Cloud Networking and Computing The Ethics of Cloud Security Why should we care about security from an ethical perspective? Who is responsible for security breaches? Rights; responsibility; privacy as a right/merely beneficial good; stakeholders Upper-level undergraduate and graduate Cat Wade
CS 152 - Programming Languages Ethics in Software Verification and Validation How can we incorporate ethical requirements into software development? Ethical requirements and design specifications; stakeholder rights and interests Upper-level undergraduate David Gray Grant
CS 161 - Operating Systems Ethical Tradeoffs in System Design: Performance versus Correctness How should software developers make tradeoffs between performance and correctness? Cost-benefit analysis (ethics of); individual responsibility; incommensurability Upper-level undergraduate Kate Vredenburgh
CS 165 - Data Systems Privacy in the Design of Data Systems Why is privacy important from an ethical perspective? How do tech companies conceive of privacy? Rights; stakeholder rights and interests; different kinds of privacy; privacy as a right/merely beneficial good; informational privacy Upper-level undergraduate Kate Vredenburgh
CS 179 - Design of Useful and Usable Interface Systems Ethical Perspectives on Accessible Video Game Design Are software developers morally obligated to design for inclusion? Medical, social, and interactive theories of disability; formal and fair equality of opportunity Upper-level undergraduate Cat Wade
CS 181 - Machine Learning Discrimination and Machine Learning Do machine learning algorithms discriminate? If so, what can we do to mitigate this? Discrimination (disparate treatment/impact); social goods/harms; formalized fairness criteria Upper-level undergraduate Kate Vredenburgh
CS 182 - Artificial Intelligence Machines and moral decision-making (How) can we design AI systems to make genuinely moral decisions? A moral decision vs a decision with moral consequences    
CS 189 - Autonomous Robot Systems Robots and work Why is work valuable for people, and are employers obligated to provide valuable work? Rawls' and Nozick's theories of justice Upper-level undergraduate Kate Vredenburgh
CS 222 - Algorithms at the End of the Wire Transparency and search engine algorithms Do search engine companies have an obligation to be transparent about how they produce and rank search engine results? Informational autonomy; democratic principles; marketplace of ideas; responsibility    
CS 236 - Topics at the Interface between Computer Science and Economics Interpretability and Explanation Should full reserve banking with blockchain be instituted? Rawls' theory of justice Graduate Kate Vredenburgh
CS 263 - Systems Security The Ethics of Hacking Back Is it morally permissible for companies to "hack back" in response to a cyberattack? Stakeholder rights and interests; philosophical arguments for and against the moral permissibility of hacking back Graduate David Gray Grant
CS 265 - Big Data Systems Electronic Privacy and Big Data Systems How do big data systems affect our conception of privacy? Privacy; data privacy; electronic privacy; legal rights; moral rights; interests Graduate Diana Acosta-Navas
CS 279 - Design of Useful and Usable Interactive Systems Implicit bias and our moral responsibilities for it in design Are we responsible for the implicit biases that permeate our user-interface design? Implicit bias; moral responsibility    
CS 287 - Natural Language Processing Bias and Stereotypes in Word Embedding software When are stereotypes morally problematic? Bias (explicit vs. implicit); stereotypes; discrimination; statistical truths vs. essentialist claims; representational vs. allocative harms Graduate Diana Acosta-Navas

Legend

Completed module

In progress module