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August 7, 2019

USF Launches Data Ethics Center

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Ethical AI remains a high priority as developers pause to consider the implications of the automation tools they are creating. A more granular approach is being taken by the University of San Francisco’s Data Institute, which is launching a data ethics initiative that seeks to address the misuse of data through education and “civil advocacy.”

The USF Data Institute was founded three years ago to help train the next generation of data scientists. The new Center for Applied Data Ethics responds to growing concerns about the bias in machine learning and other models, the spread of disinformation and “a lack of accountability for tech companies.”

Educational efforts include a data ethics seminar series that will be made available online. A three-day technology policy workshop is scheduled for mid-November. Among the goals is developing proposed data ethics legislation not “written by corporate lobbyists,” center officials said.

“We will not reinvent the wheel, but instead will leverage existing tools and will amplify experts from a range of backgrounds,” Rachel Thomas, the center’s director, noted in a blog post announcing the data ethics initiative.

“Diversity is a crucial component in addressing tech ethics issues, and we are committed to including a diverse range of speakers and supporting students and researchers from underrepresented groups,” Thomas added.

Among the topics to be addressed is the misuse of databases and the application of algorithms to spread incendiary videos promoting extremist ideologies.

The USF Data Institute offers evening and weekend courses on topics like “practical deep learning for coders.” The curriculum will be expanded through the new center to include a data ethics course beginning in January 2020, organizers said.

The data ethics effort is part of a broader push within the U.S, engineering education community to promote ethics and context in emerging areas like AI and machine learning.

For example, USF has added a required data ethics course to its data science master’s program. It is also offering research fellowships focused on applied data ethics with an emphasis on immediate solutions. The year-long fellowships will start in early 2020.

The data ethics center will be funded through individual rather than corporate donations. Donate here.

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