One of the distinguishing features of a Hope College education is the effort our faculty and staff make to help ensure that students think about more than just the technical aspects of their computer science education. One way we have been doing this recently is in our “Exploring Computer Science” course by having students read and discuss two books that examine the societal impacts of technology, both on those who use or are otherwise affected by it, and on those who design and create it.
The two books are Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil, and Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher.
O’Neil’s book takes a look at how our increasing reliance on algorithms to make decisions has unintended impacts, particularly when those algorithms have biases encoded in them, either intentionally or unintentionally. Wachter-Boettcher expands on the issues explored by O’Neil by looking at how the lack of diversity in the tech workforce might contribute to the problems caused by these algorithms.
Rather than tell you about these books myself, however, I’m going to let you hear from two students from the fall 2018 offering of “Exploring Computer Science,” Cy Balk and Kyle Ross. In addition to reading one of the two books and writing a review, each student in the class was paired with a partner who had read the other book and tasked with creating a “podcast” episode where each played the role of their book’s author in a discussion about the two book’s content.
Though both Cy and Kyle are male students playing the role of two female authors in this podcast, the lessons they learned from this project transcend gender. They did an excellent job exploring the ideas in the two books and discussing them in an engaging way. Take a listen!