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Harvard Embedded EthiCS Program Receives $150,000 Grant

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The John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences sign stands in front of Pierce Hall.

Embedded EthiCS — an interdisciplinary initiative between the Computer Science and Philosophy departments — will receive a $150,000 grant after being named a winner in the 2019 Responsible Computer Science Challenge last week.

“We are thrilled to have our program endorsed in this public way,” Computer Science Professor Barbara J. Grosz and Philosophy Professor Alison J. Simmons — the initiative’s co-founders — wrote in an email. “We are excited to learn from the projects of other award recipients and we are eager to work with them to create open access resources that will help others integrate ethical reasoning into the computer science curriculum.”

The $2.4 million challenge receives support from four organizations — Omidyar Network, Mozilla Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies — that advocate using technology to advance societal progress. The challenge’s mission is to provide student engineers with a more holistic perspective on technology product design by backing programs that integrate ethics into the field, according to its website.

“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,” the website states.

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Launched by Grosz and Simmons in spring 2017, Embedded EthiCS — which recently expanded to a dozen courses in the Computer Science department — pairs Computer Science faculty and Philosophy graduate students to collaboratively design modules and assignments addressing relevant ethical issues in Computer Science curricula.

The idea for the initiative arose from the professors’ recognition that students needed to learn not only how to write functional code, but also how to critically analyze their systems’ ethical implications.

The Responsible Computer Science Challenge is divided into two stages. Stage I, the “Concept Development and Pilot Stage,” began in December 2018 and the winners were announced in April 2019. At that point, programs that receive awards move onto Stage II — the “Spread and Scale Stage” — set to begin in summer 2020 and end in spring 2021. Programs are selected for awards at the conclusion of each stage based on a number of criteria, including feasibility, impact, and scalability.

Embedded EthiCS was one of 17 university programs selected to receive a Stage I award, standing alongside other initiatives at Columbia, Georgetown, and the University of California, Berkeley. As a Stage I award winner, Embedded EthiCS will proceed to Stage II, where it will have the opportunity to receive an additional $200,000 grant.

Grosz and Simmons plan to use the $150,000 grant to expand the program’s open-access resources and “augment module development through design of activities relevant to students’ future technology careers,” according to the competition's website.

—Staff writer Ruth A. Hailu can be reached at ruth.hailu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ruth_hailu_

—Staff writer Amy L. Jia can be reached at amy.jia@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyLJia.

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