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Ethics in Technology Design

Excited to launch a brand new course on Ethics in Technology Design at Teachers College, Columbia University!

This course addresses a wide range of issues regarding ethics and values in technology design, and their unintended or intended effects on cognition, behavior and society. Focuses especially on social media, virtual reality, games, robotics, artificial intelligence, interactive media, interaction design and related areas.

Technology is not neutral: what are its impacts?

“It is a mistake to suppose that any technological innovation has a one-sided effect. Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and that.”
― Neil Postman, in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology


We may readily embrace technology’s seemingly promising benefits to society, such as its conveniences and affordances that can improve efficiency or create new possibilities. But too often the possible consequences go unchecked, not thoughtfully or critically considered. There is often a cost. Emergent technologies can cause unanticipated ethical dilemmas or unexpected impacts for consumers, businesses, organizations, governments, and society.

“Technology is not neutral. The choices that get made in building technology then have social ramifications.”  ― Mehran Sahami, former research scientist at Google

For example, recent controversies in the news include:

  • highly addictive mechanics in games to promote compulsive spending behavior (e.g. Loot Boxes and other gambling-like designs (Wiltshire, 2017)
  • “dark patterns” in the user experience design of mobile apps and websites that deceive or exploit the user (Tollady, 2016)
  • fake news on Facebook (Isaac & Shane, 2007)
  • objectionable content found in games or lewd children’s videos on YouTube (Maheshwari, 2017)
  • inaction on widespread user data theft of up to 87 million users’ Facebook data and exploitation for selling its users’ private data (Lapowsky, 2018)
    addiction, social isolation (Shakya & Christakis, 2017) as well as narcissism, comparison, envy, depression (Appel, Helmut, Gerlach & Crusius, 2016), and the “social feedback validation loop” from social media

Technology is not neutral; there are always impacts. Some of the impacts can be considered ethical, while others might be deemed unethical.

You can check out the syllabus and details here:

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