Casey Fiesler presents on lessons in “Ethical Tech”

Dr. Casey Fiesler is an expert within the field of tech. Her works centers around furthering ethics and equity as tech developes. // Photo courtesy of CBC Radio

In an era where technology permeates almost every aspect of life, the question of ethics in tech has never been more pertinent, and hardly a day passes without a new technology ethics scandal making national headlines. 

From privacy violations on social media to biased algorithms and controversial data collection practices, these issues underscore the complexity and urgency of ethical considerations within the tech community at large. 

Dr. Casey Fiesler, HCC ‘15, Ph.D, J.D. ‘09 is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder specializing in technology ethics, internet law, and policy. Fiesler was invited by the Institute to give a lecture titled “Three Lessons Toward Ethical Tech,” addressing critical issues within the scope of her field. 

In her current role, Fiesler is a Fellow at the Silicon Flatirons Institute for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship, an ATLAS Fellow, and has a courtesy appointment in Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Her areas of focus are diverse, including big data research ethics, ethics education, ethical speculation in technology design, empowering marginalized communities through technology and broadening participation in computing. Fiesler’s research, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (including a CAREER grant), Mozilla and Omidyar, has garnered recent significant media attention. 

Her work has been featured in major publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, WIRED and the Teen Vogue magazine.

Fiesler’s lecture was particularly relevant in a time when good intentions in computing practice and research sometimes lead to negative consequences. 

She posed a crucial question: “What can we do as technologists, researchers and educators to navigate these challenges?”

She described three takeaways she got from her research in the ethics in data science, ethics education in computing and expanding participation in the computing field, which questioned the study, development and
instruction of technology. 

First, she emphasized the importance of remembering the humans present in data, guiding towards ethical research practices. Second, she introduced the concept of ethical debt, akin to technical debt, in the process of technology design and research. Lastly, she discussed how she learned to put “a broader perspective on computing education that puts thoughtful critique of technology in everyone’s hands.”

This concept serves as a precursor to understanding the types of unintended consequences at the heart of many controversies. Fiesler advocated for a broader perspective on computing education, one that empowers everyone to engage in thoughtful critique of technology. 

By integrating these insights, Fiesler’s talk served as a unique exploration of how people can better align our technological advancements with ethical principles, ensuring that the digital world we are building is fair, just and beneficial for all. Having interviewed with the Technique, Fiesler expressed deep concern over ethical issues in technology, particularly with training data and the use of people’s content without consent, an area she finds both challenging and intellectually stimulating. 

She highlighted the hype around generative artificial intelligence (AI), emphasizing the need for a balanced perspective that neither unduly exaggerates nor diminishes its potential impact. Fiesler’s stance on social media, specifically TikTok, reflects a nuanced understanding of the platform’s influence and the necessity of responsible usage, underscoring the importance of data privacy in today’s digital age. 

Utilizing popular social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram reels, Fiesler believes in “educating a younger generation” to reach a broader, more youthful audience and providing them with accessible content on the importance of ethical practices within technology.

In addition to her contributions in educating the public about technology ethics and policy, Casey Fiesler is a fervent advocate for women in STEM. 

Her dedication to addressing the challenges faced by women in these fields is both crucial and timely. Confronting these issues, Fiesler highlighted the persistent stereotypes in the field, “stereotypes definitely persist,” she said, further emphasizing this concern through a video on Instagram. 

She continued, shedding light on a recent statistic, “the percentage of women studying CS [Computer Science] is smaller now than ever,” Fiesler said. 

Additionally, Fiesler confronted common misconceptions within the field, as she explained, “a lot of people think HCI [Human Computer Interaction] isn’t real computer science,” Fiesler said. 

This statement illuminates the diverse perceptions and challenges present within the expanding realm of computing sciences.

Fiesler’s nuanced perspective underscores an increasing public awareness and genuine engagement with the ethical aspects of technology. “I believe that people are now paying more genuine attention to technology ethics. While not everyone needs to know how to code, it’s essential that everyone questions the role and impact of technology in our lives,” Fiesler said.