An LSU philosophy professor received a grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents to integrate ethics and values into the university’s science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum.
Deborah Goldgaber, who has taught philosophy at LSU since 2014, will work with STEM professors to incorporate ethical components into existing courses. The ultimate goal of the project is to teach STEM students moral literacy so they have the language and skills to talk about ethical challenges in their fields, Goldgaber said.
Computer science teachers, for example, can learn to include lessons on the ethical implications of artificial intelligence, while biology teachers explore ways to talk about the ethical dilemmas presented by advances in medicine and technology. .
“AI is a vast field where ethics are in constant danger of exploding onto the scene,” Goldgaber said. “AI is being asked to take the place of human decision-makers. How to have a responsible AI? It’s a big question.
Goldgaber will recruit interested STEM teachers over the summer and begin training in the fall. The goal is for teachers to integrate modules into their courses in the spring of 2023.
Once implemented, STEM students may encounter additional lessons that stray from technical courses – an assigned reading and discussion of privacy issues for a computer science course, for example.
“Thinking about ethical issues in teaching students is absolutely fundamental and should be part of every professor’s role models,” said Hartmut Kaiser, professor of computer science and senior scientist at LSU’s Center for Computation and Technology.
Kaiser said he talks about ethical issues surrounding software development with his graduate students. Implementing ethics into already rigorous STEM courses might initially be a challenge for some professors, Kaiser said, but is important nonetheless.
Kaiser said the same LSU students in STEM classrooms now could be the ones facing important questions about AI 20 years from now.
He gave the example of what happens when we develop a self-aware artificial intelligence – do these entities have rights like humans? Can these machines solve any problem a human can solve?
These questions are at the heart of the “philosophy of artificial intelligence”, a branch of philosophy. But IT professionals will also have to start thinking about these questions, Kaiser said.
Another problem is that AI relies on a huge amount of data that can be distorted or used in harmful ways. Gender bias, racial bias and age discrimination can find their way into AI systems since these machines are programmed by humans.
The amount of ethics covered in STEM courses can vary by major and course. Haley Devries, who is completing her first year in industrial engineering, said that so far concerns about ethics and workers’ rights have been fundamental to her courses.
For computer science junior Roshad Richard, class discussions of ethics have been absent.
“We get so wrapped up in the workflow and the engineering, the design process, that often our morality slips away from us,” Richard said. “We are almost seen as computers ourselves.”
Richard said he would welcome the introduction of more discussions of ethics and values in STEM courses.
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Goldgaber’s program will be modeled after Harvard’s EthiCS program, which focuses on computer ethics. But Goldgaber’s curriculum will cover all of LSU’s STEM areas, including bioethics, research ethics, and human-centered design.
“I was thrilled to learn of Dr. Goldgaber’s efforts to work with the Faculty of Science to integrate ethics into STEM courses,” said College of Science Dean Cynthia Peterson. Goldgaber takes a collaborative approach to developing the course elements desired by our faculty and students.”