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Ethics & Technology Community of Practice

Explore the ethical and social impacts of technological innovation.

Our fall '23 cohort has concluded! Sign up to be notified when applications open for future cohorts of Stanford’s Ethics + Tech Practitioner program.

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Our live, cohort-based program gathers practitioners from across the tech sector, civil society, and public agencies whose work directly shapes both technology and the decisions and values - implicit and explicit - that guide it. Participants in this 7-week, live digital program convene on Zoom to connect with one another in shared examination of the process, practices, and direction of their and our shared work in technology, engaging in readings and content that challenge our preconceived notions; diving deep into cutting edge topics at the intersection of ethics, technology, and public policy; engaging directly with distinguished guest speakers at the forefront of the field; and innovating new ways of discussing these issues in cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral teams.

In Fall 2023, Stanford Continuing Professional Development hosted the program, which offered a record of completion for participants who completed the class. The Fall cohort ran for 7 weeks and the live course took place on Wednesdays, from October 4 - November 15, from 5-7pm Pacific Time. For those who cannot join live, an asynchronous course (a new experiment) gave anyone who was interested the chance to read along with our live participants. We enrolled more than 200 individuals across distant time zones in this asynchronous version, with many gathering in reading groups to discuss the material. In our first experiment during Fall 2023, we saw reading groups unfold from Apple to Oracle, Tajikistan to Tanzania. We plan to offer both a live and asynchronous option again in late 2024. If interested, please sign up here to be notified when the dates of the next cohort are announced. 

About the Course

Get access to the 2023 Course Syllabus here.

Why: The leading edge of technical innovation is full of opportunities and risks. This course will engage professionals who are thinking through how best to use their power and influence responsibly as the technology industry navigates a period of economic upheaval, new breakthroughs in generative AI, continuing dilemmas around misinformation and digital media, and a continued snail’s pace in U.S. regulatory efforts.

What: Over the course of seven weeks, participants will study with a curated group of technologists, policymakers, and civil society leaders in conversation around ethics, public policy, and technological change. Practitioners will also engage with and hear from distinguished faculty contributors and speakers and leaders at the forefront of Tech, AI and Ethics practice. Instead of passively accepting the view that what others do with new technologies is beyond our ability to control, this cohort challenges its members to harness the power of this interdisciplinary network to confront today’s ethical and policy dilemmas with capability and responsibility, and to confidently design new responses to the types of challenges teams and leaders face in industry at this crossroads - reinvigorating the habits and skills of collective action to generate responses to scaled social and socio technical challenges. Along the way, re-evaluating our agency and power also provokes practitioners to grapple with a new level of responsibility and accountability for their individual, institutional, and potential interpersonal and systemic power. With every new innovation, we press ourselves and each other as tech industry professionals to ask: What are these technologies enabling others to do, both positively and negatively? What impacts (or potential impacts) have we overlooked or ignored, out of a sense of habit, or industry siloing, or learned helplessness? What role might I have played (or be playing) in creating them? What responsibilities might this invoke for me as a leader, an innovator, a citizen, and a human being? And what plan might I forge for taking meaningful action, as an individual and as a leader in my field, to have an impact that aligns with the company, society, and impact I’m committed to build? 

While this course is a beginning, not an endpoint, to these inquiries, our mission is to set a strong foundation with cross-sector tech professionals to build shared language, underpin key topic understanding, and convene a network of like-minded professionals who can continue grappling  with complex issues and the responsibility for shared agency directly in design and practice. Past participants have had the chance to interact in unrecorded, candid sessions with distinguished guests and leaders. Course conveners have hosted Frances Haugen, Reid Hoffman, Congressman Ro Khanna, Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI), Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Meredith Whittaker (President of Signal), and others.

Outcomes: Through this course, practitioners will…

  • Gain a multi-topic and interdisciplinary understanding of the ethical and social challenges that the technology sector faces throughout product and operational decision-making, from the perspectives of their implications for ethics, tech, and public policy
  • Connect with like-minded peers and distinguished guests committed to responsible impact in the technology industry, who are grappling with similar questions and building teams and sectoral capacity to create responsible and defensible norms
  • Tackle real-world and high-complexity dilemmas as they emerge, forging ways to navigate and guide others through complex terrain with intellectual honesty and moral courage  amongst an ongoing, world-class, cross-functional community of learning

After completing this course, participants who complete the process will be invited into an ongoing community of practice for technologists and leaders working together to shape a responsible future for society and the field.

Who: As a course community, participants will meet others facing the slate of emerging issues in technology and society from the perspective of in-sector practitioners. From group product managers to frontline tech roles, engineering, customer operations, sales, marketing, trust and safety, policy, strategy, consulting, or research teams, participants will connect with leaders and voices from every background to ask rigorous questions and forge new approaches that share a common commitment to honest accounting of our agency and impact. In cohorts, tech practitioners will find themselves in conversation and exchange of unveiled perspectives with those guiding technology outside public companies and startups as well, including colleagues working in government, civil society, non-profits, journalism, or education. Together, these course and cohort members - who need not have a formal affiliation with Stanford - will form new connections and networks, breaking down barriers between undistinguished ideologies and siloes and vacuums of different industries’ unquestioned ideas. These cohorts will support leaders helping their own organizations and communities identify and face key questions that cut across emerging issues, identifying and addressing gaps and ways to combine cross-sectoral expertise  to making meaningful impact in the lives of real people going forward.

Learn from Professors across Stanford

Jeremy Weinstein

Jeremy M. Weinstein, a political scientist, went to Washington with President Obama in 2009. A key staffer in the White House, he foresaw how new technologies might remake the relationship between governments and citizens and launched Obama’s Open Government Partnership. When Samantha Power was appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations, she brought Jeremy to New York, first as her chief of staff and then as her deputy. He returned to Stanford in 2015 as a professor of political science, where he now leads Stanford Impact Labs, a major university initiative that partners research teams with leaders in the public, private, and social sectors to tackle important social problems. He is a prizewinning author and a decorated teacher whose expertise spans domestic politics and U.S. foreign policy.

 

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Mehran Sahami

Mehran Sahami was recruited to Google in its start-up days by Sergey Brin and is one of the inventors of email spam-filtering technology. With a background in machine learning and artificial intelligence, he returned to Stanford as a computer science professor in 2007 and now holds the James and Ellenor Chesebrough Professorship in Engineering. As the associate chair for education in the computer science department, he helped redesign the program’s undergraduate curriculum. He is one of the instructors of Stanford’s massive introductory computer programming course taken by nearly 1,500 students per year. Mehran is also a limited partner in several VC funds and serves as an adviser to high-tech start-ups. 

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Rob Reich

Rob Reich is a philosopher, the director of Stanford University’s Center for Ethics in Society, co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and associate director of its new Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. He is a leading thinker at the intersection of ethics and technology and the author of Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do BetterA former sixth grade teacher, he has won multiple teaching awards at Stanford. He helped to create the global movement #GivingTuesday and serves as chair of its board.

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