Mar 23, 2023  
2019-2020 Undergraduate Academic Catalog 
2019-2020 Undergraduate Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

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HU 4321 - Ethics of Digital Technologies and AI

3 lecture hours 0 lab hours 3 credits

Course Description
As digital technologies make their way deeper and wider into human life, their ethical ramifications have become harder to ignore. Although all technologies have ethical impacts, digital technologies are distinctive in several ways. First, they operate by processing information. On the one hand, this simply means that computers manipulate formal symbols by following rules for moving from one state of information to another. On the other hand, these symbols represent meaningful information to us, sometimes information about us. The explosion of information in the digital age raises novel concerns about the value and meaning of privacy and the threat that digital technologies may pose to it. Second, digital technologies have changed human social dynamics in new ways-see Facebook, Twitter-which raises questions about the value and meaning of our social relationships, civic life, and political institutions. Third, digital technologies are increasingly autonomous, raising questions about humanity’s changing place in a world where machines occupy an ever-greater role in executing both basic and advanced functions.

The third point speaks to the special importance of artificial intelligence, or AI, in the conversation about the ethics of digital technologies. AI comprises a diverse field of views and projects predicated on the idea that artifacts or artificial systems-often computers-can exhibit intelligent behavior. Today AI stands as a flashpoint for some of the most pressing questions concerning the relationship between technology and society. Of course, science fiction has long traded in such questions: Are truly intelligent computers akin to persons? Must we treat them with equal respect and consideration? Will the failure to do so provoke a “robot revolution?” But with the advance of increasingly powerful tools within AI-including so-called “deep learning”-similar questions have taken on a more realistic tenor: Will the capacities of AI systems surpass our ability to understand them? Do increasingly intelligent systems throw into question the value or dignity of human work and cognitive achievement? (prereq: sophomore standing)

Course Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  • Identify some of the philosophical bases for ethical concerns surrounding digital technologies
  • Learn practical tools for approaching these challenges in their professional lives in thoughtful and responsible ways

Prerequisites by Topic
  • None

Course Topics
  • Introduction to ethics and its application to digital technologies and AI
  • Ethics of information, part I: privacy and transparency
  • Ethics of information, part II: intellectual property, individual liberties, and human rights
  • Design ethics and user experience
  • Human-computer interaction and relationships
  • Digital technologies, psycho-social well-being, and democratic values
  • AI and human work
  • AI and social justice
  • Artificial moral agency, part I: theoretical approaches
  • Artificial moral agency, part II: applications
  • Ethical problem-solving: student presentations

Dr. Andrew McAninch

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