Ben Shneiderman is an Emeritus Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland, and a much-honoured pioneer in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. His recent book, Human-Centered AI, is a valuable contribution to the literature discussing challenges for the appropriate use of artificial intelligence and proposing approaches and steps to achieve a safer and more humane future incorporating the likely increased use of AI.
Although there is much that I could discuss, I shall focus primarily on Part 3, Design Metaphors, and Part 4, Governance Structures.
Digital technologies for learning, health, politics, and commerce have enriched the world. Digital heroes like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Batya Friedman, Alan Kay, JCR Licklider, and Joe Weizenbaum have blazed trails. Yet there is trouble. We depend upon software that nobody totally understands. We are vulnerable to cyberterrorism. Privacy is overrun by surveillance capitalism.Totalitarian control advances. Daily internet news matching our beliefs makes it hard to tell true from false. People are addicted to devices. Jobs disappear without social safety nets. Digital leviathans threaten to control all commerce. Our values are threatened.
There are risks of premature use of AI in domains such as health, criminal justice, senior care, and warfare. Much current AI is unreliable, without common sense, deceptive in hiding that it’s an algorithm, unable to explain decisions, unjust, neither accountable nor responsible, and untrustworthy.
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg built an app to connect Harvard undergrads to one another. By 2006, it was available to anyone over the age of 13. Soon thereafter, his Facebook (FB) social media firm was animated by the concept that connectivity was a human right for the world’s billions. FB is now visited by almost 3 billion distinct users each month. The firm has become a monopoly, counting Instagram and WhatsApp among its divisions. (Further details appear in Chapters 11 and 17 of Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.)
FB’s dominance has led to serious problems which are well known.Its news feed widely shares toxic material — misinformation, hate speech, and fake news. People post private information which FB exploits commercially through surveillance capitalism. Fake social media participants constructed by Russia in the 2016 US presidential election and other elections has skewed the results. Children’s addiction to social media harms their sense of self-worth and their physical and mental health and well-being.
Every Computer Science student should get significant exposure to the social, political, legal, and ethical issues raised by the accelerating progress in the development and use of digital technologies.
The standard approach is to offer one undergraduate course, typically called Computers and Society or Computer Ethics. I have done this during the current term at Columbia University, using my new textbook, Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019). We meet twice a week for 75 minutes. In class, I present key topics covered in the book, and welcome a number of guest speakers who present their own experiences and points of view. Every class is interactive, as I try to get the students to express their own ideas. There have been four assignments: a policy brief, a book report, a debate, and a research paper. Such courses are typically not required by major research universities, which is a mistake, but they are often required by liberal arts colleges.
Today’s high-tech workers are the envy of the workforce. They do a job that most love. Many get to work with reasonable independence, with no bosses looking over their shoulders. Rewards can be great; thousands and possibly tens of thousands have become millionaires. Many have become billionaires.
My textbook — Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives — may be used in a variety of courses and contexts, but is intended primarily for use by Computer Science (CS) Departments, as they attempt to educate and train tomorrow’s software professionals, managers, and IT leaders. If we want to monitor how well departments are doing this job, we should ask is if they are sensitizing their students to the ethical responsibilities of the profession. It is useful to contrast the attitudes and performance of CS Departments, typically situated in science faculties, with departments in Faculties of Engineering.
Concern over ethics in Engineering began after several major disasters late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century, notably several bridge failures and the Boston molasses disaster, in which a flood or molasses wreaked havoc on nearby building and train systems. There already had been created professional societies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. These societies then moved quickly to introduce Codes of Ethics and requirements for licensing and accreditation, which ultimately caused university departments and faculties to include some learning about and practice with ethical concerns as part of their curricula. A later development was the creation in 1954 by the National Society of Professional Engineers of a Board of Ethical Review.