Allegheny College Awarded Grant from Mozilla Foundation

Responsible Computer Science ChallengeAllegheny College received a $144,252 grant from the Mozilla Foundation for the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, a partnership of Omidyar Network, Mozilla, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. Oliver Bonham-Carter, assistant professor of computer science, will direct the grant project, which aims to integrate ethics and social responsibility into undergraduate computer science courses.

“Through this grant, Allegheny computer science students will investigate potential ethical and societal challenges while studying fields like artificial intelligence and data analytics,” Bonham-Carter said. “For example, they might interrogate how medical data is analyzed, used or secured.” Lessons will include readings, hands-on activities and talks from experts in the field.

Allegheny’s grant is part of Stage I of the challenge, in which 17 initiatives received a total of $2.4 million in funding. The winners, which included Georgetown University and Harvard University, have computer science programs ranging in size from 87 students to 3,650 students. The winners were selected by a panel of 19 independent judges from universities, community organizations, and the tech industry.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Oliver Bonham-Carter
Assistant Professor of Computer Science Oliver Bonham-Carter

“Today’s computer scientists write code with the potential to affect billions of people’s privacy, security, equality and well-being,” said Kathy Pham, computer scientist and Mozilla fellow co-leading the challenge. “Technology today can influence what journalism we read and what political discussions we engage with; whether or not we qualify for a mortgage or insurance policy; how results about us come up in an online search; whether we are released on bail or have to stay; and so much more.

“These 17 winners recognize that power and take crucial steps to integrate ethics and responsibility into core courses like algorithms, compilers, computer architecture, neural networks and data structures. Furthermore, they will release their materials and methodology in the open, allowing other individuals and institutions to adapt and use them in their own environment, broadening the reach of the work. By deeply integrating ethics into computer science curricula and sharing the content openly, we can create more responsible technology from the start.”

Stage II of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, scheduled for summer 2020, will support the spread and scale of the most promising approaches developed in Stage I. In total, the challenge will award up to $3.5 million.

Allegheny was among the first small liberal arts colleges to offer a computer science program. Allegheny’s computer science major and minor programs are designed to provide a solid basis in the principles of the discipline combined with practical experience in software systems design, implementation and analysis. The College also offers an interdisciplinary major in integrative informatics.