Developing a techno-ethical mindset

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When it comes to technology, ethics can be complicated. With the rapid pace and evolution of digital technology, it can be tricky to understand how ethics plays a role, let alone stay on top of challenges, protocol, and procedures. 

That’s why Ashish Hingle, PhD student and graduate researcher at George Mason, is helping students navigate the ethics terrain. Through an NSF grant titled Situated Algorithmic Thinking: Preparing the Future Computing Workforce for Ethical Decision-Making through Interactive Case Studies, Hingle will work alongside School of Computing’s Aditya Johri and Huzefa Rangwala, and Alexander Monea in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Their work will help technology-focused students think through ethical dilemmas, and provide the tools to imagine how ethics plays a role at school and work.  

“To develop an ethical mindset, it is critical that students in IT, computing, and engineering learn to examine a problem, design, or a possible solution from different viewpoints and perspectives,” says Johri. “They should be able to take a morally sound and humanistic appraisal of the impact they have in the world through the technology they design, build, and deploy.” 

Through role-play, case studies, and other activities Hingle hopes students will be engaged in technology ethics in a more creative and hands- on way. 

“We want students to develop situational learning skills, and make the learning process more engaging, rather than encouraging the notion that technology ethics is closely associated with catastrophic or inequality driven events,” says Hingle. “Our job is to help students feel ready and to think of their own course of action to any ethical challenge they face with the technology they use or create.” 

According to Hingle, sometimes the immediate solution is to solve ethical issues within technology, by applying more technology. This reliance on technology was a central theme of the Summer Institute of Technology Ethics at Santa Clara University, a research residency program where Hingle was selected as a research scholar. He says by giving students the tools to imagine their own course of action, it could be a more productive solution. 

“We want ethics learning in technology to be more of an inclusive, fair, and transparent conversation, rather than students getting a history lesson of what went wrong in the past,” says Hingle. “Our students have been very receptive to exploring what technology ethics looks like in 2022, and are especially engaged when they realize how ubiquitous and pervasive technology can be. We want to continue to find ways to make technology ethics more approachable and adaptable.” 

He says while digital technology is a relatively new concept, technology ethics have been discussed for decades. In our current landscape, they are often an afterthought. But by starting students on the path to an ethical mindset as it applies to technology, it could help prevent issues before they start. 

“I’m excited about the work we do,” says Hingle. “When it comes to technology ethics, it makes sense for people to be at the center of our choices, not the tech.” 

This work is partly supported by U.S. NSF Award #1937950. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies.