let’s do some ai+ethics

As many of you know, my thesis project is to develop an AI+Ethics curriculum for middle school students. The goals of the curriculum is three-fold: (1) to enable students to see artificial intelligence systems as artifacts with politics, (2) to enable students to see technology as manipulable, and (3) to empower students to design AI with ethics in mind.

I’ll actually be in the classroom later this week, and these are a set of values I hope to establish in our community.

These first three values come as suggestions from Jaleesa in LLK and her experience in the classroom, so credit and thanks goes to her.

  1. This is a brave space: We acknowledge that designing better AI systems is a hard thing to do, and even hard than that, is discussing the ethics of systems that affect almost every aspect of our lives. However, despite the difficulty and complexity of the problem before us, we will do our best to contribute to a solution. We acknowledge that speaking up in front of a group of people can be scary, and that it is very brave to share your ideas and risk vulnerability. We acknowledge that learning something brand new means we also risk failure, and that learning takes time.
  2. We trust the experiences of others: We accept others as they are and trust in their experiences when they share them with us. We recognize that to deny the experiences of others is to make them less human,  and refuse to do so. We recognize the bravery in sharing about our lives, and encourage an environment that makes each other feel included.
  3. We assume positive intent: We recognize that we will be discussing difficult topics, and that sometimes our peers will say or do something that makes us feel small, upset, or offended. When that happens, we will assume that person meant well in their words or actions and respectfully notify them how their words or actions made us feel so that they may learn how to better communicate in the future.
  4. We value diversity, inclusion, and collaboration: We recognize that our biggest asset in learning about and designing better technology are each other’s diverse experiences. We welcome those who are different from us. We recognize that no best solution comes from one person, and therefore we value collaborating with others on a team, and making everyone in our team feel safe, valued, and comfortable.
  5. We are humble and curious: We accept that the problem set before us is challenging and no single person, regardless of how smart or experienced, will be able to solve it. We acknowledge that to do our best we must be committed to learning about new things, people, and ideas. We acknowledge that asking questions is important, and that no question is “dumb” or “a waste of time,” and that we encourage our peers to be curious by asking questions.

And here are the details:


Middle schoolers, teachers, school district administrators, representatives from local AI startups (software engineers, C-level executives, education outreach officials).

Of course, middle school students are the target age group for my curriculum, so it makes sense that middle schoolers will be there. However,  we are keeping an open door policy. Many local area AI startups are interested in this ethics curriculum, and will be invited to participate in activities alongside the students, or to shadow the class (whichever they feel most comfortable with). We want to show the students that you can learn to design better technology at any age, at any point in your career. Teachers and school district administrators have also been invited to observe, but will also be welcome to participate because designing better AI should be an open, democratic, and inclusive process.


At a middle school in Pittsburgh, PA during the school day. As some of you might know, many curriculum pilots take place during after school workshop or summer camps. There is at least one good reason for this: school time is precious. However, the problem with pilots taking place outside of school hours is that many students systematically do not gain access to these new, high-tech, cutting-edge curriculums. Additionally, an unfortunate side effect is that many of the scientific studies are based on small numbers of participants. Thus, I feel so lucky that I will be able to visit this middle school and work with students during their normally scheduled library period.  Since I will be returning each quarter to the school, I will be able to offer this curriculum to every child in the district.


There will be a few activities for students to engage in. These activities, broadly speaking, serve one of three goals: (1) teaching students the fundamentals of artificial intelligence (e.g. what is training data? what is a learning algorithm? how do these two items affect the success of the system?), (2) teaching students that AI systems have ethical import, and (3) teaching students the fundamentals of value-sensitive design and giving students practice in making hard, ethical design decisions.

In addition to these activities, however, we will also be including community-building activities, such as fun icebreakers, small group and class discussion, and by role playing/modeling behavior that reflects our core values listed above.

One thought on “let’s do some ai+ethics

  1. “We assume positive intent” is both powerful and intriguing to me as a foreigner. I assume it is needed to open the room for a discussion about race and maybe gender? It would probably be useful when discussing AI bias. But might it be helpful to attack the subject critically and assume that any AI or training data contains bias and it is just a matter of finding it. And added value could be something along the lines of “trust nothing, check everything” that is a huge part of the journalistic ethos that I was molded by. In other words: Accountability.

    By the way, I love the subject. It is a big interest of mine right now. But could it also be applied to teaching older students? And how would you help the middle schoolers produce tangible products in class?

    It might be a bit off topic but to me the most obvious ways students meet AI right now is through their newsfeeds on various social media. AI plays a huge role in various aspects of this and as a digital journalist I have spent years trying to “game” or understand “the algoritme”. It might be an interesting and very concrete take on how AI is affecting our lives.

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