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Ways of Thinking in Informatics


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With the intimate entanglement of digital technology with humans and their social way of being, computer science has changed. While some of the problems we deal with are (still) well defined and mostly computationally solvable, many problems are now found to be wicked and ill defined. People and technologies are now part of an interwoven socio-material web in which humans are not the only actors anymore. This pervasive complexity raises challenges for computer scientists and technologists that go well beyond of what could be addressed by a traditional understanding of engineering the most efficient computational tools. It requires us to rethink what must be the core competencies of future computer scientists. New skills stemming from the social sciences or philosophy need to complement engineering skills to create digital technologies within lived experiences. With it comes a major shift in responsibility. In a New York Times article, Farhad Manjoo argued why 2017 could be seen as a turning point for big technology companies as they "began to grudgingly accept that they have some responsibility to the offline world."a Technologists, whether working in dominating corporations, small start-ups, or within academia, can no longer pretend they only solve tech problems. They are required to engage in a moral discourse as most of their products or results are essentially social interventions.

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So how can we facilitate such a shift in the thinking as well as in the culture? In a recent workshop we co-organized on "Values in Computing," a group of leading experts in the field of human-computer interaction discussed this question. The outcome was distilled into the Denver Manifesto,b which calls for a shift in the education of future researchers and practitioners to ensure they can not only write software, but are also critically reflecting on their moral positions and their contribution to society.


 

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