Mitchell Baker, chairwoman, and co-founder of Mozilla talked about the need for the tech industry to expand beyond the technical skills, last week following the announcement of the Responsible computer Science Challenge. She spoke about how hiring employees only from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) stream leads the way for technologists who face the same “blind spots” in tech as the current ones.
“STEM is a necessity and educating more people in STEM topics clearly critical. But one thing that’s happened in 2018 is that we’ve looked at the platforms, and the thinking behind the platforms, and the lack of focus on impact or result,” said Baker in a statement to the Guardian.
She also mentioned that hiring employees solely from the STEM disciplines is a move that will “come back to bite us”. Baker also tweeted about the reason to move beyond the precise technical jobs and skills:
to those who ask why expand STEM beyond precise technical and job skills: the goal is increasing understanding, vocabulary and toolkits for thinking about the impact of technology on life and on humanity. Requires developing new curriculum. @ex_oh00 @TeBites @penguinmlle
— MitchellBaker (@MitchellBaker) October 12, 2018
Mozilla wants to broaden the horizon of the tech industry by incorporating education grounded in humanities such as psychology and philosophy into undergraduate computer science degrees. The inclusion of ethics in the coursework will focus on not being purely philosophical. Rather, it will make use of hypothesis and logic to present the ideas. Also, these ethics ideas should make sense in a computer science coursework.
“We need to be adding not just social sciences of the past, but something related to humanity and how to think about the effects of technology on humanity – which is partly sociology, partly anthropology, partly psychology, partly philosophy, partly ethics … it’s some new formulation of all of those things, as part of a Stem education. Otherwise, we’ll have ourselves to blame, for generations of technologists who don’t even have the toolsets to add these things in”, mentioned Baker.
Mozilla Foundation, along with Omidyar Network, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, launched a competition, named Responsible Computer Science Challenge, last week for professors and educators. This aims to produce “a new wave of engineers” who’d implement a holistic approach to the design of all types of tech products.
“The hope is that the Challenge will unearth and spark innovative coursework that will not only be implemented at the participating home institutions but also be scaled to additional colleges and universities across the country — and beyond”, reads the challenge overview. The challenge stems from the ongoing problem of misinformation online and wants to empower graduating engineers to drive a “culture shift in the tech industry and build a healthier internet”.
This initiative by Mozilla to promote ethics and humanities in computer science coursework reflects on the values that the company stands by. It was only last week when the company dropped the word “meritocracy” from its revised governance statement and leadership structure to actively promote diversity and inclusion.
“In a world where software is entwined with much of our lives, it is not enough to simply know what software can do. We must also know what software should and shouldn’t do, and train ourselves to think critically about how our code can be used. Students of computer science…must understand how code intersects with human behavior, privacy, safety, vulnerability, equality, and many other factors”, says Kathy Pham, a computer scientist at Mozilla who’s also co-leading the challenge.
For more information, check out the official Mozilla blog.