The Ethics of Emerging Technologies
CSC 191/ HMN 385 | Wake Forest University | Fall 2020
New technologies are on the horizon and quickly becoming part of our lives. Now is the time to ask three questions: (1) What are the ethical implications of such technological developments? (2) What can we do to address them? (3) How can we live well with these technologies? To respond to the first question, students develop a toolkit to diagnose the moral and social ramifications of emerging technologies. To address the second question, students compose codes of ethics for the various technologies we discuss. To address the third, students practice character development strategies, including personal reflection and volitional self-habituation, to cultivate specific “technomoral virtues” in themselves, using “technomoral field journals” to chart their progress.
“As someone who hopes to enter the tech field as an entrepreneur and work with disruptive teams, I think this course helped me realize how important it is to consider the motives behind our actions and the ethical implications of new developments. It has also taught me to question some of my unhealthy tech habits and give greater consideration to cultivating virtues.”
“As a senior this has been one of my favorite classes if not favorite class of college. I feel like it is the most applicable and has taught me the most out of any class I have taken before. The workload is reasonable and the material is extremely interesting and engaging.”
“The most valuable skill that I learned during this course was how to pick apart technologies for their ethical implications. From being in this course, I have found myself constantly contemplating how one social media or online software had biases, targeted advertisements, or implicit ways of gathering information about me. I can transfer this skill to make sure that I am not putting myself at risk blindly online."
Future Tense: The Ethics of What Will Be
PHIL 109 | Northwestern University | Spring 2018
Self-driving cars are hitting the road. AlphaGo recently devised a new strategy to defeat the world’s best (human) Go player. Scientists have begun to edit the DNA of human embryos. China recently implemented a “Social Credit System” to track and broadcast a citizen’s "trustworthiness." Now is the right time to ask two questions: (1) What are the ethical implications of such technological developments? (2) If left unchecked, what kind of future will they produce? To address (1), we will turn to philosophers of the past and present. For at the heart of a question like, “can a machine be human?” is “what does it mean to be human in the first place?” Philosophers have several responses to this question, and we can use their past answers to address the future. To respond to (2), we will compose codes of ethics for the technologies we discuss.
“This has genuinely been the best class I have taken at Northwestern. I learned an incredible amount about AI and other emerging technologies, but more importantly, Prof. Cochran and my classmates pushed me to think deeply about where I stand on a number of extremely difficult ethical debates. This class forced me to legitimize my opinions and convictions past just ‘that's what feels right’ or ‘it’s the way things should be.’ The seminar-style class was super helpful for everyone to hash out differing opinions and tackle tough problems from many sides. I appreciate how willing everyone was to talk about controversial topics and challenge each other on our arguments. By the end of the quarter I certainly changed my perspective on many aspects of life, human nature, and technology. To me, that is invaluable.”
“TAKE THIS CLASS!!! If you have even the slightest interest in ethics, philosophy, or technology, I cannot recommend this course enough. This has hands-down been my favorite class at Northwestern, and I learned so much about tackling problems from an ethical lens. The readings are manageable and interesting, and Cochran does an excellent job facilitating good discussion in class... 80-minute classes are the bane of my existence, but I genuinely was excited to come to this class every single day.”
“The most valuable thing I learned from this class was how relevant human nature (and resolving the question of what makes us human) is to practically every other ethical question. During the whole class, but particularly during our discussions of AI and genetic enhancement, I found myself continuously coming back to the question of what makes us human and how much these technologies threaten that... and is that even a bad thing?”
Aristotle and His Successors
PHIL/CL 221 | University of Illinois at Chicago | Spring 2018
Aristotle discusses some of the most fundamental questions in nearly every area of philosophy: What is knowledge, and how does it differ from experience and wisdom? What is truth? What does it mean for something to have a nature? What is time? What is the structure of reality? What is God? What is the purpose of human life? How do we become good people? How should we organize ourselves into a political community? Our aim in this course is to understand and evaluate Aristotle's answers to these and other questions. By engaging with Aristotle in these ways, we will hopefully develop our own philosophical thinking, too.
"Cochran clearly prepared his materials well. His powerpoints were excellent, and his explanations were incredibly concise and helpful. He has a genuine enthusiasm for the subject matter; great, in-depth feedback on essay assignments. I'm incredibly glad I took Cochran for Aristotle. Probably my best philosophy course so far at UIC."
"Prof. Cochran's style of teaching was extremely beneficial to the way I personally learn. He has the uncanny ability to break down material in the texts, and help the student process and understand what the text is trying to communicate."
"I cannot say enough good things about this course/instructor. Truly the best instructor I've had in my now five-year college career."
Mentoring & Civic Engagement
Brady Scholars Program in Ethics and Civic Life
As a Graduate Fellow in Northwestern’s Brady Scholars Program, I was part of a team of educators that sought to combine moral and political philosophy with practical experience to help students improve themselves morally and make a difference in their community. From 2015-2018, I mentored the same small group of students to help them develop into reflective and ethically-minded citizens. I also co-designed and team-taught their senior seminar, Philosophy and the City, with three other Fellows, and I contributed to the evolution of the program at monthly administrative meetings. I was thrilled to be invited back to mentor another group of senior Brady students for the 2019-2020 academic year. Find out more about the Program here.