Critical Conversations - National Ethics Project

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) faces timely ethical questions head-on through its ongoing Critical Conversation Series. Introduced in 2018 by Dean of Arts and Sciences Jean King, the series has hosted discussions on a range of topics from genetically altered humans to diversity in STEM to artificial intelligence; this platform serves as a springboard for ethical dialogue across the university.

The most recent of these talks was a well-timed conversation about the new ethical concerns brought about by ChatGPT. Appropriately, this event was moderated by the head of the computer science department and featured panelists from the business school. The Critical Conversation Series has been able to expediently and prolifically engage its community through this type of critical dialogue because of its ability to pull together a wide range of academics, students, staff, and experts. Typically consisting of a diversity of panelists from across WPI and drawing from a wide array of external specialists, these events tend to be frequent and expansive because of the impromptu and organic nature of the conversations. 

Professor King sees the value in this series as it relates to ethical education among students. These conversations have become a vital step in the learning process as they allow students to begin to dissect the scientific, social, and ethical implications of modern ethical problems through the lenses of cross-disciplinary experts. “Students will be the citizens of tomorrow,” King said. “If nothing else, we really need to teach them how to make critical decisions, how to use critical thinking around issues, and to never depend on just one aspect of an issue. We need to teach them to think about what aspects they are missing.”

You can learn more about the Critical Conversation Series and watch recordings of past conversations here on their website

Has ethics made a difference at your institution over time? Contact Alexis Jimenez Maldonado, alexismaldonado@fas.harvard.edu, with ideas for forthcoming Spotlights.

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