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Community forum held to discuss College of Computing organizational structure

The new college intends to focus on social and ethical responsibilities of computing

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MIT Schwarzman College of Computing Dean Daniel Huttenlocher and CSAIL Director Daniela Rus answer questions about computational ethics at the College of Computing community forum.

Over 100 MIT students, faculty, administrative staff, and researchers attended a Feb. 12 community forum on the organizational structure of the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. 

Following updates from Daniel Huttenlocher PhD ’88, dean of the college of computing, forum attendees asked questions to the college leadership team. The college leadership team is composed of Huttenlocher, David Kaiser, associate dean for social and ethical responsibilities of computing in the college, Julie Shah PhD ’11, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, Asu Ozdaglar PhD ’03, head of the EECS department, and Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL.

Huttenlocher said the college is “aimed at addressing the opportunities and challenges of the computing age.” He said computing has become “important in every discipline” and described the college’s role “in bringing multiple programs together … which is not always easy in the academic environment where we tend to be departmentally organized.” 

Huttenlocher said the three main focuses of the college are supporting growth in computing, facilitating computing collaboration across disciplines, and concentrating on social and ethical responsibilities of computing. 

The College of Computing includes seven current units at the Institute: the EECS department, the Operations Research Center, the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, the Center for Computational Science and Engineering, CSAIL, the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, and Quest for Intelligence. 

In addition to these existing units, the college will introduce three new “cross-cutting” areas: the Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing, the Common Ground, and the Center for Advanced Studies of Computing. 

Huttenlocher said that “any students and faculty in these existing units or part of the new things that we're building are part of the college.”

Huttenlocher described the Common Ground of the College of Computing as an educational initiative of “multi-departmental teaching groups to facilitate offering of computing classes and coordination of computing-related curricula across academic units at MIT.” The Common Ground’s objectives are to develop integrated computing classes, to enable co-teaching, and to design an embedded curriculum that infuses ethical issues in computing classes and computation in other existing classes.

Huttenlocher expressed an intention to incorporate computing into other majors, so that students “don't even have to be in a blended major with Course 6 to learn the parts of computing [they] want to learn and understand the paths through curriculum at MIT to get [them] there.”

During the forum, Huttenlocher also addressed the social and ethical responsibilities of computing, including teaching, research, and engagement initiatives. Huttenlocher said that “the important thing” about conversations regarding these responsibilities is having “multiple perspectives and developing the language and the research and the results to have informed perspectives,” Huttenlocher said.

Huttenlocher said that from an academic standpoint, the college leadership team wants “to make sure” that the college is “actively integrating social, ethical, and policy considerations in [the] teaching, research and implementation of computing.” He added that “some course materials for embedding social ethical responsibilities in classes” will be prepared “pretty quickly.”

Huttenlocher also presented plans for the College of Computing’s administrative headquarters in Building 45, which is intended to house 50 faculty research groups, a mix of lab space types, two classrooms, open and closed community and meeting spaces, a street-level café, and potential event space. The construction of the headquarters is expected to be completed in 2023.