National Award to Help UC Berkeley Expand Responsible Data Science and Computer Science Curriculum

Responsible CS
April 30, 2019

The Responsible Computer Science Challenge, an ambitious $3.5 million initiative, has chosen UC Berkeley as one of its inaugural awardees. The award will support UC Berkeley faculty and students in computer science, social science, and humanities to develop and scale Berkeley’s groundbreaking ethics curriculum for data science and computer science.

The curriculum equips students to recognize and grapple with the complex, high-stakes questions that arise with technologies that carry both enormous potential and significant risks; a world in which facial recognition can help find missing children and also perpetuate biases, and social media platforms can be used both to build human rights movements and to hack elections.

The Challenge, supported by Omidyar NetworkMozillaSchmidt Futures and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, funds interdisciplinary teams to integrate ethics into undergraduate computer science classes. It prepares students to take a holistic approach to designing and deploying computing technologies across a broad range of domains.

To ensure technology fulfills its potential as a positive force in the world, we must fundamentally reimagine the way we train the future leaders of our industry during their undergraduate years. 

- Letter of Support from industry representatives.

Berkeley is one of 17 institutions across the US to receive a Stage I Challenge award to develop and pilot ideas to integrate ethics into computer science courses. In summer 2020, a second round of funding will be awarded to support and scale the most promising initiatives. In total, the Challenge will award up to $3.5 million in prizes. Berkeley will use its initial $150,000 award to bring the “Human Contexts and Ethics Toolkit” piloted in its data science curriculum into computer science classes. The toolkit gives students concrete social science tools to identify where power structures and value choices get built into technical work, and the skills to develop strategies to responsibly and effectively intervene.

“I’m delighted to work with colleagues in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) to bring these social science approaches directly into their courses,” said Cathryn Carson, faculty lead for data science education at Berkeley, a professor of history, and a principal investigator on the award. “Berkeley computer science education is already extraordinarily strong. This collaborative award will let us respond to the hopes of our students and the demands of the day.”

Berkeley students will be active participants in developing and testing the new course materials. Jim Demmel, chair of EECS and a principal investigator on the award, notes, “Computer science and data science students have shown deep interest in the courses we offer on the ethics of computing. They have organized many events that tackle these critical societal questions. We hope the toolkit we’re developing at Berkeley can help other colleges and universities integrate ethics into their classes at scale.”

The toolkit grew out of Berkeley’s course on Human Contexts and Ethics of Data. In this course, students examine the dynamics of technology development and social values, and dive deep into historical and institutional contexts of life in a world of ubiquitous computing. It launched in 2018 and now enrolls 250 students a semester. A grounding in the social and human dimensions of data is a key feature of Berkeley’s new data science major and its coming data science minor.

Program lead Margo Boenig-Liptsin co-designed the course and will direct the Responsible CS team. She observes, “Data Science is an excellent entry point for responsible Computer Science. It makes heavy use of data about human beings and creates databases and machine learning and AI systems that are deeply implicated with society. It's a privilege and great responsibility to shape this intersection of data, computing, and society with the award at Berkeley, especially given our University's public mission and connections to Silicon Valley.” 

With thousands of graduates in computer science, data science, and related fields every year, Berkeley is the largest supplier of tech talent to Silicon Valley.

The Challenge award will help bring the toolkit concepts and strategies to computer science classes at Berkeley, reaching up to 7,000 data science, computer science, and EECS students a year. Online courses and yearly workshops for data science educators across the country further extend the reach of Berkeley’s data science curriculum.

Berkeley’s Division of Data Sciences was designed to bring together faculty from across disciplines to propel research and discovery and empower a diverse range of students to engage as leaders, creators, and change agents in this emerging field. Learn more about Berkeley’s efforts in this area here.


For additional information, please contact: Cathryn Carson, Faculty Lead, Data Science Education Program, or Jim Demmel, EECS Chair.