Moshe Vardi is a Professor of Computer Science at Rice University in the US and holds numerous honours and awards. In this conversation he talks about the impact of technologies on society and how this challenges what computer science should be concerned about and our responsibilities to engage in these issues. What he has to say speaks not only to computer scientists but to all academics.
Side note: This is the first part of a much longer conversation. Part 2, coming out as a separate podcast, discusses the changes and challenges in academia more generally.
“Suddenly we [computer scientists] are running society and we are poorly equipped.”
“We focus too much on ethics and not enough on policy.”
“How do we make sure this technology is for the most effective use of mankind?” (Referencing Ada Lovelace)
“As a discipline we need to start asking, what is our (social) responsibility.” “And a general question for academic, … what is our responsibility as academics?”
He talks about (times approximate) …
01:35 Talking about his Jewish background and what it gave him in terms of social ethics, being a hard-core computer scientist, and a key event in 2011 when IBM Watson won in Jeopardy that made him think about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and implications for society, and that we as computer scientists are so poorly equipped. Now starting a new course on ethics on computer science for their third years.
11:00 Discussing different waves of computer science changes. And now increasing news media on technology impacts eg Facebook, Apple devices. Physics had the focus in the 1940s with the first atomic bomb and got a social conscience. Biologists have a second moment now with CRISPR and genetic editing. Calls for more ethical training of students, and by students.
16:50 The agreement that ethics needs to be taught, and then the debate on who should teach ethics and whether courses should be co-taught by philosophers and computer scientists. He argues we focus too much on ethics and not enough on policy. But the challenges of predicting impact.
21:30 First angle on thinking about AI was thinking about the future of work. How a panel invitation to talk for 10 mins on a ‘big question’ led to focusing on future of work and thinking/reading more about it and becoming more skeptical about economists’ views.
26:15 Computer science |(CS) as a discipline is facing a unique moment. We want to look in the mirror and think we are doing good things building technology to help people. But now technology has a will of its own, has become a monster and not clear who is on control. Talks about Ada Lovelace and call to do good for mankind, Dramatic change though in image of CS even in the last year and a half, as an example, an item on Fox News comparing tech executives to tobacco executives. Also seeing the technical awakening of tech workers.
34:35 What is the definition of computer science now? Has Human Computer Interaction been concerned with societal impacts? A concern for ethics, future of work etc is a big part of what he is doing. Also became editor of the magazine for computing professionals. From 2004-2006 studied off-sharing, about jobs, received a lot of press attention, way more exposure than for anything technical. So he knew jobs were important for people. What is our responsibility as CS? And all disciplines can ask the same question. And is it AI or IA (intelligence augmentation)? Also discusses implications for diversity and more importantly inclusion and the 80% left behind.
44:00 Technology always changing society but it is moving very fast now. Too fast? The speed that is making it so difficult to adapt and deal with it. And how history will judge this time. Discusses Brexit and Trump election. And the bubbles we live in. We rarely see things outside of our bubbles. Discusses the role of social media in this, in particular Facebook.
Book: J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
Dennis Ritchie’s second death stories e.g., https://www.cnet.com/news/tech-luminaries-laud-dennis-ritchie-5-years-after-death-second-death-syndrome/