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Coding a Better Future

Emerson Hall in Harvard Yard is the home of the Philosophy Department.
Emerson Hall in Harvard Yard is the home of the Philosophy Department. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Embedded EthiCS, a collaborative initiative between the Computer Science and Philosophy Departments, now offers a dozen courses, tripling its size since when it began spring 2017. The initiative, which offers interdisciplinary courses that address the ethical issues surrounding technology and computer science, also plans to expand to other disciplines.

We strongly applaud this exciting, innovative initiative from the Computer Science and Philosophy Departments. The creation of Embedded EthiCS affirms the two departments’ understanding that examining the ethics at play in a novel field like computer science is an essential part of developing the field responsibly. We are heartened by the program’s expansion, and further encourage the integration of this interdisciplinary approach in other academic departments so that ethics becomes a valued component of every discipline.

An understanding of ethical issues arising from the rapid growth of technology in our society is not only useful, but also morally vital. Issues of data collection and privacy of information — to name just a few concerns — have posed challenges in the field of computer science, and it is of the utmost importance that students concentrating in the field think seriously about them. To that end, the Embedded EthiCS program is not only creating new ethics-based courses, but also aiming at integrating ethical questions into pre-existing courses across Computer Science. By this process, rather than learning just the most efficient coding techniques, students will also have to confront the implications of the systems they create on the world around them.

At a place like Harvard, where students in all disciplines will go on to shape their fields, this type of interdisciplinary initiative should not be restricted to the Computer Science department. In light of ethical challenges emerging in other STEM fields like genetics, we feel that this initiative should expand to other schools across the University such as the School for Engineering and Applied Sciences. Encouragingly, the program already plans to expand to the Medical School. Even within the College, we hope that the program grows, so that all students, regardless of concentration, will be able to take ethical reasoning classes designed to engage directly with issues related to their concentration.

Even beyond Harvard, we encourage this type of interdisciplinary approach to learning at colleges and universities across the U.S. in all kinds of different contexts. By making the materials for Embedded EthiCS courses available online, the program has made concrete steps to work towards just such a goal. We commend this move, and hope these academic initiatives across Harvard and academia more broadly will encourage students to think more deeply about how they can use their talents not just to succeed in their industry of choice, but to build a better world.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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