The National Academies’ Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) released a new report, Fostering Responsible Computing Research: Foundations and Practices. The report outlines recommendations for the computing research community to ensure ethical and societal impacts are thought through and a part of the conversation from the start.
The National Academics’ CSTB was created to advise the nation on technical and public policy issues pertaining to computing. This includes social and economic implications, sustaining leadership in computing innovation, and using computing in desirable and beneficial ways. The board is comprised of leading experts in the field, one of which is CCC Council Member David Danks.
On May 2nd, the project’s Committee Chair, Barbara Grosz, discussed the key findings and recommendations from the report. You can see the webinar recording here. In Grosz’s talk, she stressed that the report and its recommendations carry no expectation that computer scientists and engineers become experts in areas of scholarship such as ethics, psychology, sociology etc.
“As computing technologies play central roles in increasingly many spheres of daily life and affect societies ever more widely, computing research, which provides the foundations enabling these technologies, must grapple with their sociotechnical nature—in shaping the research itself and to yield solid foundations for technology development. The report’s recommendations enable it to do so, and they identify multiple routes for computing researchers and students to acquire understanding of relevant ethics and social science expertise and their value for addressing challenges of responsible computing.” – Barbara Grosz
As it stands now, the computing research community deals with issues as retrospective damage control. In order to mitigate risks and negative impacts, ethical and societal implications must be considered and baked into the design phase of technology development. This requires an interdisciplinary approach with abundant resources and expertise. The report highlights eight recommendations outlining initial steps to making this vision a reality.
- Recommendation 1. The computing research community should reshape the ways computing research is formulated and undertaken to ensure that ethical and societal consequences are considered and addressed appropriately from the start.
- Recommendation 2. The computing research community should initiate projects that foster responsible computing research, including research that leads to societal benefits and ethical societal impact and research that helps avoid or mitigate negative outcomes and harms. Both research sponsors and research institution should encourage and support the pursuit of such projects .
- Recommendation 3. Universities scientific and professional societies, and research and education sponsors should support the development of the expertise needed to integrate social and behavioral science and ethical thinking into computing research.
- Recommendation 4. Computing research organizations – working with scientific and professional societies and research sponsors – should ensure that their computing faculty, students, and research staff have access to scholars with the expertise to advise them in examining potential ethical and societal implications of proposed and ongoing research activities, including ways to engage relevant groups of stakeholders. Computing researchers should seek out such advice.
- Recommendation 5. Sponsors of computing research should require that ethical and societal considerations be interwoven into research proposals, evaluated in proposal review and included in project reports.
- Recommendation 6. Scientific and professional societies and other publishers of computing research should take steps to ensure that ethical and societal considerations are appropriately addressed in publications. The computing research community should likewise take steps ensure that these considerations are appropriately addressed in public release of artifacts.
- Recommendation 7. Computing researchers who are involved in the development or deployment of systems should adhere to established best practices in the computing community for system design, oversight and monitoring.
- Recommendation 8. Research sponsors, research institutions and scientific and professional societies should encourage computing researchers to engage with the public and with the public interest and support them in doing so.
You can read the full report here.