The ethics of computer science: this researcher has a controversial proposal

Elizabeth Gibney:

In the midst of growing public concern over artificial intelligence (AI), privacy and the use of data, Brent Hecht has a controversial proposal: the computer-science community should change its peer-review process to ensure that researchers disclose any possible negative societal consequences of their work in papers, or risk rejection.

Hecht, a computer scientist, chairs the Future of Computing Academy (FCA), a group of young leaders in the field that pitched the policy in March. Without such measures, he says, computer scientists will blindly develop products without considering their impacts, and the field risks joining oil and tobacco as industries whose researchers history judges unfavourably.

The FCA is part of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in New York City, the world’s largest computing society. It, too, is making changes to encourage researchers to consider societal impacts: on 17 July, it published an updated version of its ethics code, last redrafted in 1992. The guidelines call on researchers to be alert to how their work can influence society, take steps to protect privacy and continually reassess technologies whose impact will change over time, such as those based in machine learning.