A Course to Incorporate Ethics in Computing in Early Undergraduate Computer Science Studies; A Case For Anticipatory Technology Ethics: The Social Construction of Deepfake Nonconsensual Sexual Media

Maggard, Kristen, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, University of Virginia
Vrugtman, Rosanne, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

My technical report and STS research paper have a common theme of the role of ethics in the field of computer science, particularly in how ethical analysis through the innovation process can lead to better outcomes for society. In both, a primary motivation of my work was to encourage computer scientists to prioritize ethics in our careers as a means to prevent or mitigate risks of harm. I chose to focus on undergraduate computer science education within my technical report because just like how important it is for students to develop technical skills and problem solving techniques, I believe it is also important for students to be aware of how their work will engage with the real world and consider what impacts it will have. I chose to explore in my STS research the issue of deepfake technology being used to create non-consensual sexual media. It was alarming to me that the kinds of technologies I am excited to study and create have been weaponized against people, and I wanted to know how this issue with deepfakes arose and what actions during the research and development stages could have prevented it.
For my technical report, I proposed a 1000-level computer science course to teach new students about ethics of computing. In the paper, I emphasize how there are many ethical issues in the field of computer science and that computer scientists and computer science educators have responsibilities for preventing harms in the real world as a result of technologies we develop. By teaching students how ethics intersects with computer science at early stages in their academic careers, they will be equipped to analyze the ethical implications of technologies they encounter and develop throughout their academic, professional, and extracurricular endeavors. My work also highlights that awareness of ethical challenges in the field of computer science may foster senses of purpose, passion, and fulfillment for computer science students as they study and work.
For my STS research paper, I applied STS frameworks to the issue of deepfake technology being used to create non-consensual sexual media for my STS research paper. In the paper, I argue how the great harms primarily perpetrated against women, the LGBTQ+ community, and youth through this new form of “revenge porn” possibly could have been safeguarded against if researchers had invested more time into exploring and mitigating risks of deepfakes as the technology to produce them was being developed. This research serves as an example of the application of the framework of Anticipatory Technology Ethics. I additionally utilized the STS framework of the Social Construction of Technology to analyze how deepfake pornography became such a large problem so quickly after the software tools that can create the videos were made accessible to users with access to consumer-grade hardware. Both frameworks are utilized to analyze this important issue for the purpose of raising awareness that there are preventative actions we can and should take to protect people.
Working on both projects simultaneously broadened my perspective on how ethical issues within computer science are addressed. It is difficult to be enthusiastic about new innovations that are supposed to be exciting when those same technologies are being used in psychologically damaging ways against people, especially people of demographics I identify with. It was empowering to be able to learn about and vocalize potential solutions to mitigate risks of similar harms in the future. These ideas strongly connected with the overarching goal of my technical report, which is to educate computer science students about ethics early on in their careers. I am always eager to find systemic level solutions, so exploring ways computer science research and development practices as well as educational standards could be updated was exciting to me. By working on these papers at the same time, not only did I get to explore an ethics related issue in computer science and discuss how researchers in particular could be proactive in preventing harm, but I also had the opportunity to consider how to spread awareness to computer scientists about why incorporating ethical analysis in their work is important in the first place. Through this experience, I have gained a thorough understanding of ethical challenges and possible solutions within the field of computer science.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
deepfakes, deepfake, computer science education, ethics of computing, SCOT, social construction of technology, anticipatory technological ethics

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Rosanne Vrugtman
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook

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