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Author, Political Scientist Virginia Eubanks Speaks with CICS Ethics Class

SUNY University at Albany Associate Professor of political science Virginia Eubanks gave a talk on campus on Nov. 8 as part of The Futures lecture series. In her talk, Eubanks discussed her book, "Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor," which systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America.

After her lecture, Eubanks also spoke with a small group of students in the computer science course Ethical Considerations in Computing. Taught by College of Information and Computer Sciences teaching faculty member Michelle Trim, this course considers an array of ethical issues in computing. Readings, class discussions, and guest speakers cover topics related to avenues of development in artificial intelligence, privacy, identity, inclusiveness, environmental responsibility, internet censorship, network policy, plagiarism, intellectual property and others.

"Studying ethics has become an essential part of computer science education," said Trim. "As some rush with excitement toward the speed and efficiency that computers can bring to difficult social and civic decision-making, it seemed particularly important for students in this class to benefit from Virginia Eubank's careful and thoughtful research into the effects of placing computing in such a traditionally human role."  

Students were given the opportunity to ask Eubanks questions about her book and the future of computer science in the modern age. "In big talks, I don't go into the technical details," said Eubanks, responding to one student. "In small groups, though, I can, and that's great because the details are important."

Eubanks stayed after the class ended to continue her discussion, leaving students with an important message. "The most important thing for [computer science students] is to rethink who has relevant experience to make decisions about systems - those who only have machine learning information are not enough," said Eubanks. "The people most impacted by those systems need to be given a seat at the table."  

For two decades, Eubanks has worked in community technology and economic justice movements. Today, she is a founding member of the Our Data Bodies Project and a Fellow at New America. Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Harper's and Wired. She is also the author of "Punish the Poor; Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age"; and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith."

The Futures Series is co-sponsored by the College of Information and Computer Sciences, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the Center for Smart and Connected Society. This program explores how we can live in a world where social and technological transformation must be considered simultaneously and inseparably.

Written by Sarah Almstrom (Political Science, '22)