Discussions of the ethical implications of science and technology have reached a new level of prominence on MIT’s campus with the founding of the Schwarzman College of Computing. Leaders in industry, academia, and the public sector all acknowledge the ubiquity of technology and the vital role that ethics must play in the creation of new technology. MIT graduates have the opportunity to become pioneers in fields like inclusive AI practices and cybersecurity policy, but only if they possess both technical expertise and an understanding of how technology impacts various groups of people.

 

As AI and other advanced technologies become ubiquitous in their influence and impact, touching nearly every aspect of life, we have increasingly seen the need to more consciously align powerful new technologies with core human values — integrating consideration of societal and ethical implications of new technologies into the earliest stages of their development.

 

Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean, and Professor of Political Science, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

 

What human values are you (or are you not) integrating into the earliest stages of development? 

 

 

"If we go deep [into AI tool-making] without a view as to whether AI can advance justice, whether it can strengthen our democracy, if we engage this enterprise without those questions driving our discourse, we are doomed.”

 

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation (MIT News)

 

"We know that technology can be a powerful voice for good, but we need to be thoughtful about how we deploy it. Less than 10 percent of US lawmakers have a technical degree, and so many issues around privacy, security, and access have yet to be resolved. We need more people in these industries to think more about the ethical implications.”

 

Alan Davidson ’89, SM ’93, the first director of digital economy at the US Department of Commerce (Slice of MIT)

 

However, these conversations are not new. More than 50 years ago, a group of MIT faculty, students, and alumni came together to speak out against nuclear warfare and formed the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

 

“We ask you, as a member of the scientific community, to join us in a concerted and continuing effort to influence public policy in areas where your own scientific knowledge and skill can play a significant role.  The issues which are of primary concern to us are survival problems where misapplication of technology literally threatens our continued existence. These fall into three categories: those that are upon us, as in the nuclear arms race; those that are imminent, as are pollution-induced climatic and ecological changes; and those that lie beyond the horizon, as, for example, genetic manipulation.” 

 

Kurt Gottfried PhD '55 on behalf of the founders of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS Website) (March 4, 1969) 

 

As our society wrestles with those challenges that the UCS founders foresaw, as well as many new challenges that they could not yet imagine, we need MIT graduates who are not afraid to ask the tough questions. 

Whose existence might your work threaten?