Human Contexts and Ethics

The Human Contexts and Ethics (HCE) program is a community of students and faculty examining the dynamics of technology development and social values in a datafied world.

HCE education explores how human, social, and institutional structures and practices shape technical work  around computing and data, as well as how data, data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and computing permeate and shape our individual and social lives.

The HCE curriculum teaches students structured forms of academic inquiry from the humanities and social sciences. It engages students in reflection, writing, analysis, project work, and practice to surface critical questions of individual or societal responsibility and to support making reasoned ethical choices in complex situations at the intersection of technology and society.

In addition to offering dedicated HCE courses, we also integrate HCE approaches and toolkits  in a variety of other data science, computer science, and humanities and social science courses.

The program also supports public conversations about data, computing, and society in Silicon Valley.

Defining Features

The following principles define how we approach Human Contexts and Ethics (HCE) at UC Berkeley:

Ethics is social, shaped by history, instilled in institutions, and dynamically produced with our technologies.

This definition informs how we teach:

  • We guide students to recognize opportunities for acting in the present by understanding historical dynamics and patterns that have brought us here.

  • We bring to light the societal structures and values of the datafied world, consider the human contexts (individual, institutional, structural) that have shaped them, and recognize how they are reconstituted with technology.

  • We invite students and faculty to wrestle with big questions about life in a world in which data technologies and computing are an inseparable part of our daily lives: What is fairness in this world? What are our values as a society? What are our visions of the good life? What is human agency, and what does responsible action look like in this context?

HCE education is general education — for all.

HCE education is necessary for humanities and social science students as well as for engineers. Humanists and social scientists need to understand the role of data technologies in informing culture, politics, and society today, and be aware of what they bring to these critical discussions. Effective and responsible engineers must know the human contexts of their tools and how they’re applied. We already serve hundreds of students each semester, and we hope that HCE can bcomee a part of the general education of all undergraduates at Berkeley.

HCE is integral to technical education.

Data science majors are required to take at least one course that addresses the human contexts and ethics of data. Many of these courses also serve the requirements of other STEM majors. A list of approved courses and those available for the coming semester is available here.

HCE education is a collaboration across disciplines.

Social scientists, humanists, and engineers working alongside one other at every level of the university to shape HCE curriculum. Both social sciences and humanities and engineering fields get shaped and re-defined in the process of engaging HCE.

Equity, inclusion, and diversity are central to HCE.

Data science raises fundamental issues of justice and participation, engaging with human beings as sources of data, as analysts, and as people affected by its products. HCE helps shape the field to be equitable and inclusive from the start.

Student leadership is an essential element of the program.

HCE Student Team members develop curriculum and oversee its implementation in the classroom; evaluate, publish, and disseminate results and best-practices; teach student course staff and faculty how they can implement curricula, and lead discussions with peers.

All of our pedagogical materials are available to the public.

We plan to launch a public collaboration to share successful aspects of our curriculum with interested universities and corporations and collectively move the HCE curriculum forward as data science, computing, and society evolve.

For more information, please contact hce@berkeley.edu.