Mozilla, along with Omidyar Network, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, has launched an initiative for professors, graduate students, and teaching assistants at U.S. colleges and universities to integrate and demonstrate the relevance of ethics into computer science education at the undergraduate level. This competition, titled ‘Responsible Computer Science Challenge’ has solely been launched to foster the idea of ‘ethical coding’ into today’s times.
Code written by computer scientists are widely used in fields ranging from data collection to analysis. Poorly designed code can have a negative impact on a user’s privacy and security. This challenge seeks creative approaches to integrating ethics and societal considerations into undergraduate computer science education.
Ideas pitched by contestants will be judged by an independent panel of experts from academia, profit and non-profit organizations and tech companies. The best proposals will be awarded up to $3.5 million over the next two years.
“We are looking to encourage ways of teaching ethics that make sense in a computer science program, that make sense today, and that make sense in understanding questions of data.”
-Mitchell Baker, founder and chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation
What is this challenge all about?
Professors are encouraged to tweak class material, for example, integrating a reading assignment on ethics to go with each project, or having computer science lessons co-taught with teaching assistants from the ethics department. The coursework introduced should encourage students to use their logical skills and come up with ideas to incorporate humanistic principles.
The challenge consists of two stages: a Concept Development and Pilot Stage and a Spread and Scale Stage.T he first stage will award these proposals up to $150,000 to try out their ideas firsthand, for instance at the university where the educator teaches. The second stage will select the best of the pilots and grant them $200,000 to help them scale to other universities.
Baker asserts that the competition and its prize money will yield substantial and relevant practical ideas.
Ideas will be judged based on the potential of their approach, the feasibility of success, a difference from existing solutions, impact on the society, bringing new perspectives to ethics and scalability of the solution.
Mozilla’s competition comes as welcomed venture after many of the top universities, like Harvard and MIT, are taking initiatives to integrate ethics within their computer science department.