Ethics Instruction: Who Knew?

September 24, 2021

Well, this is not particularly alarming. Despite increasing concern over the harm caused by unbridled algorithms, many AI students are still not being taught ethics in their coursework. The Next Web reports, “Data Science Students Don’t Know a Lot About Ethics–and That’s a Problem.” Ethical problem-solving is specifically mentioned in the National Academies recommend 10 training areas for data-science degrees. Considering the dramatic rise in students going into this field, the authors investigated the instruction undergraduates are receiving. They write:

“In our study, we compared undergraduate data science curricula with the expectations for undergraduate data science training put forth by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Those expectations include training in ethics. We found most programs dedicated considerable coursework to mathematics, statistics and computer science, but little training in ethical considerations such as privacy and systemic bias. Only 50% of the degree programs we investigated required any coursework in ethics. Why it matters: As with any powerful tool, the responsible application of data science requires training in how to use data science and to understand its impacts. Our results align with prior work that found little attention is paid to ethics in data science degree programs. This suggests that undergraduate data science degree programs may produce a workforce without the training and judgment to apply data science methods responsibly. … We believe explicit training in ethical practices would better prepare a socially responsible data science workforce.”

The study focused on R1 schools, or those with high levels of research activity. The authors note there may be more ethics instruction to be found at schools with lower levels of research or in graduate-level courses. It seems like more research is needed.

Cynthia Murrell, September 24, 2021


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