Georgia Tech Hosts NSF-funded Workshop on Computing and Ethics

Jason Borenstien

Posted September 12, 2019

With an increasing number of stories in the news about privacy violations on the Internet, identity theft, and algorithmic bias, ethical concerns related to computing-based education, research, and practice are growing and intensifying. To help address such concerns, a workshop funded by the National Science Foundation was hosted on the Georgia Tech campus on August 29 and August 30, 2019. 

The workshop was organized by Jason Borenstein, principal acad professional at the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy and Office of Graduate Studies, Ayanna Howard, chair of the School of Interactive Computing, and Kinnis Gosha, assistant professor in the Morehouse College Department of Computer Science

The workshop convened over 30 experts from across four topical realms. These realms were Fairness, Ethics, Accountability, and Transparency, or “FEAT” for short. The workshop had diverse representation as the invited experts work in various sectors, including academia, industry, and for government agencies. Many types of academic organizations, including R1 institutions, historically black colleges and universities, and liberal arts colleges, were represented at the event.  

Several important themes emerged during the FEAT workshop. First is the importance of addressing fairness in computing.  Fairness can be difficult to define precisely. The term has many candidate definitions in the scholarly literature. But the concept often refers to avoiding inappropriate forms of discrimination. Inappropriate discrimination has allegedly manifested itself when Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been used, for example, to determine who is a suitable candidate for a job or a home loan. The negative consequences are often experienced by historically disadvantaged groups. Given that the use of AI is becoming pervasive, the unfairness that the public experiences from the technology may sharply increase unless appropriate measures are put in place by the computing community.

The second main theme is the importance of diversity and inclusion in computing education and research. This theme not only refers to improving the pipeline of individuals who have meaningful opportunities and access to pursuing a degree in a computing field, but it also includes trying to ensure that computing technologies more fully represent and include the broad and diverse base of individuals who interact with those technologies.  For example, many recent news stories reveal that facial recognition devices have difficulty recognizing people from minority groups in part because efforts to test such devices have not been inclusive enough.

The workshop attendees and organizers worked together, including during panels and breakout sessions, to identify challenges and opportunities related to FEAT in computing-based education, research, and practice. A key outcome will be a workshop report describing best practices to address FEAT.

The School of Public Policy is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

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