https://www.dagstuhl.de/19291

July 14 – 19 , 2019, Dagstuhl Seminar 19291

Values in Computing

Organizers

Christoph Becker (University of Toronto, CA)
Gregor Engels (Universität Paderborn, DE)
Andrew Feenberg (Simon Fraser University – Burnaby, CA)
Maria Angela Ferrario (Lancaster University, GB)
Geraldine Fitzpatrick (TU Wien, AT)

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Documents

Dagstuhl Report, Volume 9, Issue 7 Dagstuhl Report
Aims & Scope
List of Participants
Shared Documents
Dagstuhl Seminar Wiki
Dagstuhl Seminar Schedule [pdf]

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Summary

The purpose of Dagstuhl Seminar 1929 ‘Values in Computing’ was to bring together practitioners and researchers with expertise stretching beyond computer science, to include sociology, ethics, and philosophy to examine the complex relations between human values, computing technologies and society. In so doing, the seminar invited an inter-disciplinary community to share their challenges, illustrate their approaches through concrete case studies, and distil lessons learned into actionable guidelines for research and education with tangible implications for policies and industry.

The seminar was motivated by the growing urgency for computing research and industry to answer questions about the role that digital technology plays in society. The greater the scale and reach of digital technology systems, the greater their impact, both intended and unintended. Mainstream media, popular science, and the general public have only started grappling with the scale of these consequences. Many are calling institutions, professionals, and scientists to act [3]. Recent years have seen an increasing number of high-profile software scandals and malpractices in which individual privacy and democracy have been undermined (Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data), the environmental impact of air pollutants disregarded (the Volkswagen’s diesel emission scandal), and human lives lost (the Boeing 737 Max anti-stall software disasters).

These events are the constant reminders that human values are indeed “the facts of the future” [1], as Feenberg argues. Values are not the opposite of facts, they become facts: the more weight we give to certain values (e.g. wealth, political influence, power), the bigger the ‘blind spots’ of the existing values become (e.g. environmental sustainability, equality and social justice). There is a pressing need then to understand how human values operate and to build on this understanding to consider how research and education might contribute to a more socially responsible computing industry.

To this end, the seminar brought together disciplines with a long tradition of critical thinking and human-centred approaches to computing with those that, such as Software Engineering, have been traditionally considered, albeit increasingly controversially, as ‘values neutral’. The breadth and depth of the interdisciplinary debate, one of the key distinguishing features and strengths of this five-day seminar, was also, and intentionally so, one of its main challenges. This was particularly evident when the need to unpack the multifaceted and often abstract notion of human values was met by the demand for the discussion to be of concrete relevance to computing education and practice. Within this context, one of the key objectives of the seminar was to facilitate both the exploration of broad themes and the identification of specific topics that would require meaningful cross-disciplinary effort. To this end, a two-pronged approach was designed to encourage both divergence and converge of viewpoints.

Thematic divergence was encouraged through six short Seed Talks, ten open-floor Lightning Talks, and a Soap Box session were participants would pitch high-level challenges to provoke discussion. Convergence was facilitated by World Café style group discussions around six emergent themes. Over the last two days, these themes were then distilled into four topics with one working group assigned to each (Action, Education, Research, and Response). Seed Talks were invited 20-minute talks designed to be informative and provocative. Thematically, they were structured around the original seminar proposal scoping areas: theory and methodologies (Feenberg and Mainzer), professional practice (Spiekermann and Whittle); and educational pathways (Nathan and Patitsas). Participants offered Lightning Talks on a variety of topics of their own choosing. For instance, Easterbrook focused on the environmental crisis and called for urgent action; Walker, McCord and Lievrouw shared their experiences of socially responsible digital activism; Frauenberger provided concrete examples on how different ways of thinking informatics in education [2]; Winter outlined the tools and techniques used to study values in software production [4]; and Jensen-Ferreira shared her approach to software industry research. Finally, four teams worked on a specific Values in Computing topic, each identifying a possible course of action:

  1. Action – This group worked under the premise that the professional knowledge and critical insight of computer and social scientists should be mobilized as an active force in public education and policy-making concerning the design, implementation and regulation of information technology. With a view to these three lines of action, the group proposed the penning and wide distribution of a document, tentatively entitled “The Dagstuhl Declaration” here included.
  2. Research – The Research group pursued a threefold-goal: understand the state-of-the-art of the research and highlight under-explored research areas; discuss methods and tools that have been or can be used, and identify future research directions.
  3. Education – The Education group discussed the implications for undergraduate and graduate computing education by conducting a brief but focused exploration of existing university-level courses, methods and tools and their mapping of curriculum cross-cutting learning objectives.
  4. Response – This group worked on the intersection between climate emergency and the future of computing and centred its activity on gathering resources about this intersection and writing an opinion piece to address it.

References

  1. Andrew Feenberg. Ten paradoxes of technology. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, 14(1):3–15, 2010.
  2. Christopher Frauenberger and Peter Purgathofer. 2019. Ways of thinking in informatics. Commun. ACM 62, 7 (June 2019), 58-64.
  3. Leon J. Osterweil. Be prepared. SIGSOFT Softw. Eng. Notes, 41(5):4–5, November 2016.
  4. Emily Winter, Stephen Forshaw, Lucy Hunt, and Maria Angela Ferrario. 2019. Towards a systematic study of values in SE: tools for industry and education. In Proceedings of the 41st International Conference on Software Engineering: ICSE-NIER ’19. IEEE Press, Piscataway, NJ, USA, 61-64.
Summary text license
  Creative Commons BY 3.0 Unported license
  Maria Angela Ferrario, Christoph Becker, Gregor Engels, Andrew Feenberg, and Geraldine Fitzpatrick

Classification

  • Society / Human-computer Interaction
  • Software Engineering

Keywords

  • Computing in society
  • Responsible innovation
  • Sustainability informatics
  • Computer ethics
  • Philosophy of technology and moral philosophy.

Documentation

In the series Dagstuhl Reports each Dagstuhl Seminar and Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop is documented. The seminar organizers, in cooperation with the collector, prepare a report that includes contributions from the participants' talks together with a summary of the seminar.

 

Download overview leaflet (PDF).

Publications

Furthermore, a comprehensive peer-reviewed collection of research papers can be published in the series Dagstuhl Follow-Ups.

Dagstuhl's Impact

Please inform us when a publication was published as a result from your seminar. These publications are listed in the category Dagstuhl's Impact and are presented on a special shelf on the ground floor of the library.