Ask someone to describe the academic work at the heart of a university, and you’re likely to get an answer focused on faculty research, student learning, or a combination of the two.
Postdoctoral fellows rarely garner much attention in this type of conversation. And yet the scholars who hold these positions play an integral role in allowing a university to fulfill both its research and educational missions.
That’s why the Notre Dame Technology Ethics Center (ND TEC) earlier this year prioritized the creation of the Technology Ethics Postdoctoral Fellows Program, appointing Georgina Curto Rex, Cody Turner, and Carolina Villegas-Galaviz as its inaugural cohort of fellows.
“We couldn’t be happier that Georgina, Cody, and Carolina accepted our offer to join ND TEC,” said Kirsten Martin, the center’s director as well as William P. and Hazel B. White Center Professor of Technology Ethics and a professor of IT, analytics, and operations in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “The opportunity to host such outstanding early career scholars for a year or two around the time they have completed or are completing their Ph.D. enlivens our research community and expands the number and types of courses we can make available to our undergraduate students. We get so much out of having our postdocs here, and our goal is for them to get just as much out of their time at Notre Dame.”
The way in which ND TEC connects an interdisciplinary group of faculty affiliates is one of the aspects of the program the fellows find most valuable.
“The ability to communicate and collaborate with scholars from other academic disciplines who are also researching emerging technologies has functioned to broaden my conceptual horizons and, in the case of scholars from the hard sciences, help keep my research empirically grounded,” said Turner, who earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Connecticut. “Beyond ND TEC, I have also found the Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship in the Hesburgh Library to be especially valuable for my teaching and research endeavors.”
While postdocs may contribute to faculty projects, they spend much of their time pursuing their own lines of research, which they then have the chance to share through lunchtime workshops. Turner, for instance, is examining how emerging wearable and implantable AI assistant devices—e.g., smartwatches, smart glasses, smart contact lenses, and neural implants—are poised to affect the human mind from a metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological perspective.
Curto, who received her Ph.D. in AI ethics in a joint program offered by the Universities of Ramon LLull (IQS School of Management), Deusto, and Pontificia Comillas (ICADE Business School), focuses on issues of fairness and inclusion.
“I am using artificial intelligence to find alternative ways to mitigate poverty and discrimination,” she said. “Poverty reduction policies based on the redistribution of wealth have proved insufficient in recent decades, and artificial intelligence offers non-invasive ways to explore the impact of a new generation of policies, contributing to Goal 1 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Curto’s and Turner’s positions are funded by the Notre Dame-IBM Tech Ethics Lab, the applied arm of ND TEC and the center’s partner in developing the postdoc program. As part of the fellowship, they will both teach an undergraduate seminar in the spring semester that will count toward ND TEC’s minor in tech ethics. Curto’s course is called “AI for Good.”
“I am very excited about it because the students attending the course come from different disciplines, and I am sure that, working together, we can come up with projects that provide real-world local solutions to global challenges.”
Even if students aren’t pursuing the minor, they can use Turner’s class, “Internet Ethics,” to fulfill Notre Dame’s requirement for a second course in philosophy.
“Topics we’ll cover include, but are not limited to, internet censorship, surveillance capitalism, echo chambers, fake news, online shaming, online anonymity, the digital divide, the right to be forgotten, the ethics of hacking, the metaverse, and intellectual property rights in the digital age,” he said.
Villegas-Galaviz’s path to Notre Dame was a little different from those of Turner and Curto. Specializing in business ethics, AI ethics, and the ethics of care, she received her doctorate from ICADE Business School at Pontificia Comillas but spent the last year of her Ph.D. studies in residence at Notre Dame, with ND TEC Director Martin serving as one of her dissertation advisors. In addition, the two have collaborated on several papers, and Villegas-Galaviz contributed a chapter to Martin’s recent book Ethics of Data and Analytics: Concepts and Cases.
“The focus of my research is on the ethical implications of the introduction of AI to firms,” said Villegas-Galaviz, whose position is supported by a grant from Microsoft. “To understand the morality within AI, there needs to be a comprehensive study that goes beyond social impact and centers on philosophical analysis. Such an approach focuses on those who design, develop, and deploy AI and the ethical issues they may encounter in their role in those processes.”
She and Martin will each teach two sections of “Ethics of Data Analytics” for undergraduates in the spring.
“ND TEC-affiliated faculty have worked on technology ethics for years,” Villegas-Galaviz said. “The value that this has for emerging scholars is incomparable. Here we receive feedback, help, and guidance from people who really know our fields, understand issues from a comprehensive perspective, and want the best for our academic careers.”
The tech ethics postdoctoral fellowships are open to individuals (a) enrolled in either a doctoral program or in a graduate program that leads to a terminal degree in that field (e.g., law) or (b) a recent graduate of such a program (within two years). We anticipate next seeking applications in fall 2023.
Originally published by techethics.nd.edu on December 16, 2022.at