$2.4 Million in Prizes for Schools Teaching Ethics Alongside Computer Science

Omidyar Network, Mozilla, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies are announcing the Stage I winners of our Responsible Computer Science Challenge


Today, we are announcing the first winners of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge. We’re awarding $2.4 million to 17 initiatives that integrate ethics into undergraduate computer science courses.

The winners’ proposed curricula are novel: They include in-class role-playing games to explore the impact of technology on society. They embed philosophy experts and social scientists in computer science classes. They feature “red teams” that probe students’ projects for possible negative societal impacts. And they have computer science students partner with local nonprofits and government agencies.

The winners will receive awards of up to $150,000, and they span the following categories: public university, private university, liberal arts college, community college, and Jesuit university. Stage 1 winners are located across 13 states, with computer science programs ranging in size from 87 students to 3,650 students.

The Responsible Computer Science Challenge is an ambitious initiative by Omidyar Network, Mozilla, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. It aims to integrate ethics and responsibility into undergraduate computer science curricula and pedagogy at U.S. colleges and universities.

Says Kathy Pham, computer scientist and Mozilla Fellow co-leading the Challenge: “Today’s computer scientists write code with the potential to affect billions of people’s privacy, security, equality, and well-being. Technology today can influence what journalism we read and what political discussions we engage with; whether or not we qualify for a mortgage or insurance policy; how results about us come up in an online search; whether we are released on bail or have to stay; and so much more.”

Pham continues: “These 17 winners recognize that power, and take crucial steps to integrate ethics and responsibility into core courses like algorithms, compilers, computer architecture, neural networks, and data structures. Furthermore, they will release their materials and methodology in the open, allowing other individuals and institutions to adapt and use them in their own environment, broadening the reach of the work. By deeply integrating ethics into computer science curricula and sharing the content openly, we can create more responsible technology from the start.”

Says Yoav Schlesinger, principal at Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Lab co-leading the Challenge: “Revamping training for the next generation of technologists is critical to changing the way tech is built now and into the future. We are impressed with the quality of submissions and even more pleased to see such outstanding proposals awarded funding as part of Stage I of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge. With these financial resources, we are confident that winners will go on to develop exciting, innovative coursework that will not only be implemented at their home institutions, but also scaled to additional colleges and universities across the country.”

Challenge winners are announced in two stages: Stage I (today), for concepts that deeply integrate ethics into existing undergraduate computer science courses, either through syllabi changes or teaching methodology adjustments. Stage I winners receive up to $150,000 each to develop and pilot their ideas. Stage II (summer 2020) supports the spread and scale of the most promising approaches developed in Stage I. In total, the Challenge will award up to $3.5 million in prizes.

The winners announced today were selected by a panel of 19 independent judges from universities, community organizations, and the tech industry. Judges deliberated over the course of three weeks.

(School | Location | Principal Investigator)

Allegheny College | Meadville, PA | Oliver Bonham-Carter 

While studying fields like artificial intelligence and data analytics, students will investigate potential ethical and societal challenges. For example: They might interrogate how medical data is analyzed, used, or secured. Lessons will include relevant readings, hands-on activities, and talks from experts in the field.


Bemidji State University | Bemidji, MN | Marty J. Wolf, Colleen Greer

The university will lead workshops that guide faculty at other institutions in developing and implementing responsible computer science teaching modules. The workshops will convene not just computer science faculty, but also social science and humanities faculty.


Bowdoin College | Brunswick, ME | Stacy Doore

Computer science students will participate in “ethical narratives laboratories,” where they experiment with and test the impact of technology on society. These laboratories will include transformative engagement with real and fictional narratives including case studies, science fiction readings, films, shows, and personal interviews.


Columbia University | New York, NY | Augustin Chaintreau

This approach integrates ethics directly into the computer science curriculum, rather than making it a stand-alone course. Students will consult and engage with an “ethical companion” that supplements a typical course textbook, allowing ethics to be addressed immediately alongside key concepts. The companion provides examples, case studies, and problem sets that connect ethics with topics like computer vision and algorithm design.


Georgetown University | Washington, DC | Nitin Vaidya

Georgetown’s computer science department will collaborate with the school’s Ethics Lab to create interactive experiences that illuminate how ethics and computer science interact. The goal is to introduce a series of active-learning engagements across a semester-long arc into selected courses in the computer science curriculum.


Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA | Ellen Zegura

This approach embeds social responsibility into the computer science curriculum, starting with the introductory courses. Students will engage in role-playing games (RPGs) to examine how a new technology might impact the public. For example: How facial recognition or self-driving cars might affect a community.


Harvard University | Cambridge, MA | Barbara Grosz

Harvard will expand the open-access resources of its Embedded EthiCS program which pairs computer science faculty with philosophy PhD students to develop ethical reasoning modules that are incorporated into courses throughout the computer science curriculum. Computer science postdocs will augment module development through design of activities relevant to students’ future technology careers.


Miami Dade College | Miami, FL | Antonio Delgado

The college will integrate social impact projects and collaborations with local nonprofits and government agencies into the computer science curriculum. Computer science syllabi will also be updated to include ethics exercises and assignments.


Northeastern University | Boston, MA | Christo Wilson

This initiative will embed an ethics component into the university’s computer science, cybersecurity, and data science programs. The ethics component will include lectures, discussion prompts, case studies, exercises, and more. Students will also have access to a philosophy faculty advisor with expertise in information and data ethics.


Santa Clara University | Santa Clara, CA | Sukanya Manna, Shiva Houshmand, Subramaniam Vincent

This initiative will help CS students develop a deliberative ethical analysis framework that complements their technical learning. It will develop software engineering ethics, cybersecurity ethics, and data ethics modules, with integration of case studies and projects. These modules will also be adapted into free MOOC materials, so other institutions worldwide can benefit from the curriculum.


University of California, Berkeley | Berkeley, CA | James Demmel, Cathryn Carson

This initiative integrates a “Human Contexts and Ethics Toolkit” into the computer science/data science curriculum. The toolkit helps students discover when and how their work intersects with social power structures. For example: bias in data collection, privacy impacts, and algorithmic decision making.


University at Buffalo | Buffalo, NY | Atri Rudra

In this initiative, freshmen studying computer science will discuss ethics in the first-year seminar “How the internet works.” Sophomores will study responsible algorithmic development for real-­world problems. Juniors will study the ethical implications of machine learning. And seniors will incorporate ethical thinking into their capstone course.


University of California, Davis | Davis, CA | Annamaria (Nina) Amenta, Gerardo Con Díaz, and Xin Liu

Computer science students will be exposed to social science and humanities while pursuing their major, culminating in a “conscientious” senior project. The project will entail developing technology while assessing its impact on inclusion, privacy, and other factors, and there will be opportunities for projects with local nonprofits or government agencies.


University of Colorado, Boulder | Boulder, CO | Casey Fiesler

This initiative integrates an ethics component into introductory programming classes, and features an “ethics fellows program” that embeds students with an interest in ethics into upper division computer science and technical classes.


University of Maryland, Baltimore County | Baltimore, MD | Helena Mentis

This initiative uses three avenues to integrate ethics into the computer science curriculum: peer discussions on how technologies might affect different populations; negative implications evaluations, i.e. “red teams” that probe the potential negative societal impacts of students’ projects; and a training program to equip teaching assistants with ethics and equality literacy.


University of Utah | Salt Lake City, UT | Suresh Venkatasubramanian, Sorelle A. Friedler (Haverford College), Seny Kamara (Brown University)

Computer science students will be encouraged to apply problem solving and critical thinking not just to design algorithms, but also the social issues that their algorithms intersect with. For example: When studying bitcoin mining algorithms, students will focus on energy usage and environmental impact. The curriculum will be developed with the help of domain experts who have expertise in sustainability, surveillance, criminal justice, and other issue areas.


Washington University | St. Louis, MO | Ron Cytron

Computer science students will participate in “studio sessions,” or group discussions that unpack how their technical education and skills intersect with issues like individual privacy, data security, and biased algorithms.


The Responsible Computer Science Challenge is part of Mozilla’s mission to empower the people and projects on the front lines of internet health work. Learn more about Mozilla Awards.

Launched in October 2018, the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, incubated at Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Solutions Lab, is part of Omidyar Network’s growing efforts to mitigate the unintended consequences of technology on our social fabric, and ensure products are responsibly designed and brought to market.

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