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REL597: Silicon Valley Ethics: Case Studies

(Students paired with Exeter alumni working in the technology field) In a world where the products of technology permeate almost every aspect of our lives - the internet, smart phones, thousands of

(Students paired with Exeter alumni working in the technology field) In a world where the products of technology permeate almost every aspect of our lives - the internet, smart phones, thousands of apps, cloud-based voice systems, screens in our classrooms, artificial intelligence, robotics, the gig economy, video gaming, virtual reality, and numerous other products and applications currently under development - what ethical challenges are raised by their ubiquity? This course focuses on a series of case studies in an industry where a well-known motto is "move fast and break things," and where we will explore whether ethical considerations have kept pace with evolving technologies. Where does goodness fit in the knowledge revolution? If we have "outsourced our brain to Google," as some would claim, have we also outsourced our ethics to them and other big tech companies as well? Technology's many benefits are clear in our lives, in part because it is natural to focus our attention on the new and novel, and in part because the industry touts those benefits. But have we consciously and adequately considered the drawbacks, or have we unwittingly paid for convenience with the erosion of fundamental values such as free speech, privacy, democratic values, personal reflection, and the nature and depth of relationships? In what ways have the traditional systems and modes of interaction in communications, the media, education, medicine, the traditional economy, even the basic operations of democracy itself, been challenged by these new technologies, and to what extent have we understood the ethical consequences of such challenges? Using specific case studies drawn from the vast and complicated world of technology, this course will assist the student in identifying the various ethical issues embedded in the world of technology and to develop strategies to deal with them. Readings will include many actual case studies plus articles and books, which are themselves case studies. An integral part of the course will have each student paired electronically with an Exeter alumnus/a working in a technology company who will help them identify and research an issue germane to the course, with students as a final project writing their own case study about ethics in technology.