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Morality and machines: New program aims to integrate ethics into technology curriculum

A new program combining ethics and technology is coming to the Pratt School of Engineering, thanks to a $300,000 grant from from Grayson and David Lane. 

The Lane Family Ethics in Technology Program will commence next fall for a three-year trial run and seeks to integrate ethics into engineering and computer science. The donation will also be used to fund curricula and experiences that address new ethical quandaries that have come along with the advancement of technology.

“Duke students will be leaders in the future, so it’s critical that they develop an ethical framework today, and are able to implement it—especially as they move into key leadership positions in business, in government, and at nonprofits and other organizations," David Lane said in a news release.

The funding will support an annual symposium where engineering and ethics experts will convene and discuss ethics in fields of medicine, computer science and beyond. 

Engineering and computer science faculty will also be able to submit proposals for ethics-themed coursework and other materials to an oversight committee, which will determine the ideas that receive funding. 

Ravi Bellamkonda, Vinik dean of Pratt, said he hopes the program will enable his students to maintain a clear sense of morality as they enter a bustling world. 

“We want Duke Engineers to think not only about the development of new technologies, but also about their context, and how they can best serve society," he said in the release. "Emerging technologies have powerful consequences, and our goal is to prepare thoughtful leaders who can help realize their potential for good and minimize unintended harm." 

Faculty members will identify courses in which ethics could be successfully integrated in a workshop this month, with the goal of implementing the changes beginning in the Fall 2019 semester.

Suzanne Shanahan, Nannerl O. Keohane director of the Kenan Institute, said she supported the Lane Program as a supplement to Duke’s broader offerings. 

“The Lane Family Ethics in Technology Program represents a wonderful opportunity for Duke to become a national leader in integrating normative analysis and ethical decision-making into its engineering and computer science curriculum,” she said in the release.


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