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Mozilla's ambitious plan to teach coders not to be evil


The nonprofit's founder and chairwoman explains her latest initiative: a $3.5M competition in partnership with the Omidyar Network to explore new ways to teach ethics to computer science students.

For decades, popular wisdom held that technology was undeniably a good thing. But in the last few years, it's become increasingly clear that's not the case: Poorly designed technology can fuel the spread of misinformation, entrench systematic racism and sexism, erode personal privacy, and aid divisiveness and extremism.

How do you address such monumental societal changes? For Mitchell Baker, the founder and chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation, it starts with education.

Today, Mozilla, along with Omidyar Network, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, is launching a competition for professors and educators to effectively integrate ethics into computer science education at the undergraduate level. The context, called the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, will award up to $3.5 million over the next two years to proposals focused on how to make ethics relevant to young technologists.

"You can't take an ethics course from 50 or even 25 years ago and drop it in the middle of a computer science program and expect it to grab people or be particularly applicable," Baker says. "We are looking to encourage ways of teaching ethics that make sense in a computer science program, that make sense today, and that make sense in understanding questions of data."