IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - September 2022 - 88

Technological Stewardship and Responsible Innovation
misused, and while this is a valid argument, I feel
that it does not outweigh the damage that is being
done to minority communities. "
By the time of the final reflection, the duties
toward minority communities have found a central
place in the student's analysis:
" While I personally stand against the idea of differential
privacy as a whole due to the fact that it
misrepresents minority communities, I do understand
the need for some method of privacy protection
being applied to the census. "
Furthermore, group discussions precipitated
thoughtful reconsiderations of their original " takes "
on the problem through ethical theories:
" Regarding the Kantian perspective, my discussion
group that week raised an interesting
opposite view: that (to my understanding of their
point) trying to prioritize a nebulous concept of
" privacy " over the known, tangible positive value
of accurate census data, itself seems like a Kantian
violation... "
" I decided I needed to think more on the issue,
but overall still saw violating individual privacy
as a more immediate/individual/direct use of
humans as means, than the loss of census data.
The idea of universal application (if everyone
were to apply this principle) to me also argued
in favor of privacy over data, to a certain extent
at least. "
At the same time, there is a risk that students will view
this critical consideration of ethical theories as a form of
" survival of the fittest, " eliminating all but the one " correct "
lens-as illustrated in this student comment:
" All in all, this is a very complex situation and no
ethical lens has the perfect answer. More research
needs to be done to help us eliminate certain
lenses and see what outcome we should strive for. "
In an end-of-term reflection, students in Alexandra's
class note that the ethical cycle does not
clearly acknowledge the agency of technology itself:
" As we see from the works of Latour, Winner, and
Ihde, technology is not a neutral tool. It has the
capability to transform and influence its users
and unfortunately that is not a concept that users
are prompted to consider in the ethical cycle. "
88
They point out that the concept of stakeholder
does not fit well with nonhuman agents:
" We discussed among our group that if technology
is a key influencer of how the work gets done
it could be a stakeholder. However, we acknowledged
that one of the major problems with considering
technology a stakeholder is that it is not
a living being. "
Furthermore, they note that the ethical cycle
exerts a certain pressure to converge to a " Morally
Acceptable Action, " perhaps prematurely:
" Though aware that the ethical cycle provided
some degree of support for all of our potential
solutions, we felt pressured to look at the number
of supporting theories to make a decision
between the two solutions our group seemed
split between. Thus we argue, even if it is not the
intended purpose of the framework, that the ethical
cycle is set up in a way that encourages its
users to attempt to quantify qualitative results. "
It was particularly gratifying to see students come
up with a critique that had not occurred to either of
us: that even a well-motivated and " open " ethical
inquiry can be subverted by inequalities:
" The quality of the ethical cycle is highly dependent
on the abilities and openness of the individual
user. Someone with very limited knowledge of
ethics may not be able to get as in-depth into the
ethical theories or may not be able to communicate
their ideas as clearly as someone with years
of ethical knowledge and experience. "
Our selected student reflections illustrate that our
" strange " take on technology can encourage students
to think carefully and critically. Of course, our contact
with the students is limited; an ethics course can
provide exposure to critical inquiry, but incorporating
it elsewhere in students' engineering experiences
would provide the continuous reinforcement needed
to make it part of their engineering identity. Introducing
opportunities for ethical inquiry into technical
project-based courses is promising but challenging;
students must be able to balance both technical and
ethical cycles of development and inquiry, and engineering
educators who facilitate these experiences
must themselves feel comfortable with the disruptive
nature of iterative ethical reasoning.
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - September 2022

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