Northeastern University has a longstanding tradition of focusing on public interest technology. Northeastern’s world renowned innovations in experiential learning form the backbone of our efforts to develop the next generation of public interest technologists. Our internationally-leading co-op program enables our roughly 19,000 undergraduates to spend up to 18 months working in paid positions in industry, government and nonprofits. Beyond the hundreds of students per year doing co-ops at community organizations, many serving marginalized communities, students are often placed at firms working specifically in public interest technology. For example, we have recently had co-ops at firms focusing on: social justice such as Peace Tech Lab and Equal Innovation; energy and the environment like Lightstar Renewables, Greentown Labs, and Cleantech Open; AI, big data, and cybersecurity like OppScience, Akamai Tech, and DTonomy; and biotech such as Biogen, Charles River Labs, and Indigo Ag; and government tech with the Department of Labor’s Chief Innovation Officer. Our extensive service-learning programs provide additional experiential opportunities for students to work in organizations related to public interest technology.
Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences has 42 combined majors across the university, providing a perfect vehicle for educating and training students in public interest technology. Our Center for Inclusive Computing works with over 60+ universities to materially increase the number of women of all races and ethnicities graduating in computing. In addition, ethics modules are embedded in core computer science and information science.
Our undergraduate research programs allow students to conduct research with faculty as part of research initiatives being run through the Center for Law, Innovation & Creativity; Ethics Institute; the Cybersecurity & Privacy Institute; Institute for Experiential AI; Institute for Experiential Robots; NULab; Information, Algorithms & Justice initiative; and the Burnes Center for Social Change & Impact. The Burnes Center and its partner project, The GovLab, are pioneering the teaching of public interest technology for communities to solve public problems, a curriculum it delivers to participants in 80 countries. These and other centers and initiatives provide students and faculty with interdisciplinary, collaborative environments where they can pursue public interest technology research, where they can develop new programs that critically assess the risks of technology, and where they can design, build and implement technologies that advance social justice, deepen democracy and promote the public interest.
Intelligence, Data, Ethics and Society Summer Institute
The increasing use of AI technologies in sensitive domains makes it imperative to carefully evaluate their impacts and to structure appropriate regulatory and design responses. Education is an obvious first step, but effective education in responsible AI faces two challenges: lack of the integrated multidisciplinary knowledge base required for collaboratively responding to the risks posed by AI technologies, and underrepresentation of students from historically disadvantaged groups, who are disproportionately harmed by these technologies. IDEAS is a multidisciplinary two-week summer program that seeks to address these challenges through a new model for inclusive training of undergraduate students in the nascent field of responsible AI. The core objectives of IDEAS are four-fold: (1) cross-disciplinary educational training (2) career mentorship (3) broaden participation; and (4) network building. Overall, the program will foster a diverse community of researchers and practitioners who are able to systematically analyze the ethical risks posed by AI technologies and collaboratively develop systems that align with our social and ethical values.
Sina Fazelpour, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Computer Science