A Case For Teaching Ethics In STEM


Written by Amanda Longhenry

In an era defined by rapid technological advancements, the domains of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) continually push the boundaries of innovation. However, this relentless pursuit of progress also gives rise to an array of ethical dilemmas that demand our attention. Unfortunately, with every advancement in STEM, there are also new ethical issues that arise, such as the creation and manipulation of deepfakes, the replacement of human workers by artificial intelligence (AI), and the misuse of personal information by corporations and governments. As society grapples with the ethical implications of these developments, it is imperative that we incorporate ethics education into the realm of technology, equipping both current and future generations with the tools to navigate the complex landscape of STEM responsibly. By fostering a comprehensive understanding of ethics, we can ensure that advancements in technology align with the principles of justice, transparency, and respect for humanity, ultimately forging a more equitable and responsible technological future.

3 Ethical Issues In STEM

  1. Deepfakes

A deepfake refers to a synthetic media technique that utilizes advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to create highly convincing, yet fabricated, audio, video, or images which is typically used in malicious ways. There have been numerous cases of unethical uses of deepfakes to “intimidate, humiliate, or blackmail” (ORF). For example, instances have arisen where women's lives have been adversely affected by the deployment of convincing deepfake explicit content, coined “revenge porn,” leading to significant negative repercussions and humiliation.

Additionally, deepfakes can potentially contribute to fraud by enabling individuals to impersonate others or manipulate visual evidence for deceptive purposes. With their ability to create highly realistic yet false content, deepfakes can be exploited to mislead or deceive individuals and organizations. For instance, criminals have used deepfakes to impersonate people in order to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information or financial resources leading to significant financial losses

  1. Artificial Intelligence Replacement

Artificial intelligence (AI) replacement can be considered unethical when it disregards the welfare and livelihoods of individuals affected by the transition. Due to the limited legislation concerning the utilization of AI, there is a lack of enforcement regarding the ethical implementation of job replacement. If AI systems replace human workers without adequate support or alternative employment opportunities, it can lead to unemployment, economic disparities, and social instability. There are already speculations about the jobs that are anticipated to be the initial targets for AI-driven replacements.

Furthermore, AI replacement has the potential to sustain and perpetuate discriminatory practices because AI is built by humans and deployed in systems and institutions that have been marked by entrenched discrimination. Substantial evidence already exists to demonstrate the discriminatory behavior of AI systems.

  1. Misuse of Personal Information

While technology in corporations has the potential to bring numerous benefits, it can also be misused to exploit people's personal information. A common example of this is data aggregation and profiling. Companies collect, analyze, and create summaries of data about individuals (such as customers) which can provide “critical insights into data that companies can then leverage to their advantage,” (talend). There are multiple reasons why data profiling can be considered unethical as it can lead to discrimination and bias, invasion of privacy, and lack of transparency.

Teach Ethics In STEM

The growing concerns within the technology industry bring forth a commonly pondered question: "Just because we can, should we?" The perpetual advancement of technology, intended for beneficial purposes, can invariably be employed in detrimental ways. In light of the escalating ethical dilemmas surrounding the misuse of technology, it becomes imperative to instill principles of ethics in students pursuing STEM fields to ensure a safer technology environment. Fortunately, many universities realized the importance of technology ethics and have begun incorporating these topics into their curriculum. Despite the concerns, innovative technology has been primarily used positively to benefit our society. Therefore, we continue to encourage and support the pursuit of innovative technology as long as it follows moral principles.