Georgetown hosts second annual Tech & Society week

April 21, 2023

Illustration by Deborah Han

At 10 a.m. on Monday, March 27, a group gathered at 500 1st Street to discuss privacy enhancing technologies and kick off Georgetown’s second annual Tech & Society Week.

Georgetown’s Tech & Society Week was organized by its Tech & Society Initiative, whose mission statement is “to create novel approaches for interdisciplinary collaboration, research, and understanding at the intersection of technology, ethics, and governance,” and this mission was reflected in the week’s events. 

The week of events “exploring various issues at the nexus of technology and society” was designed with a wide range of audiences in mind, from those deeply embroiled in the week’s topics to those simply curious about how the issues impact our lives. Additionally, the events struck a delicate balance between technology and social science, exploring not only humanity’s technological achievements, but how we utilize them, and how we ought to.

Georgetown’s Capital Applied Learning Labs (CALL) space at 500 1st Street was one location where interested audiences could participate in Tech & Society Week. But the week of events wasn’t limited to one space, or even one campus. With events hosted on the Hilltop, at the Law Center, and all across D.C., event locations were as diverse as the fields from which they drew content.

The interdisciplinary nature of the week was important not only to Georgetown’s Tech & Society Initiative, but also to many of the events’ participants. Carla Koppell, director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the interim vice dean of the SFS for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, introduced a panel on intersectionality bias in applications of artificial intelligence, discussing the importance of participant roles in AI development.

“I really want to think about the ways in which participants can be thinking about being involved in the process [of developing and using AI],” Katherine Chandler, assistant professor, said on the panel. “A lot of people who could contribute to this conversation about what human intelligence is […] are not currently participants.”

Katherine Donato, Donald G. Herzberg professor of International Migration, echoed this sentiment when she spoke on the use of AI in border security during the same panel.

“There’s just so much AI now in bordering processes,” she said. “No one is writing on this from the social science perspective.”

But the week focused on more than just the interdisciplinary pursuits of Georgetown’s Tech & Society Initiative; it also provided an excellent opportunity to showcase Georgetown’s tech community. Hala Hawatmeh (CCT ’24) was among the Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) master’s students whose work was featured on Wednesday’s CCT Project Exhibit. “What’s so interesting about […] displaying this is that you get to see everyone has different and diverse interests,” she said. “It just shows the diversity of CCT students.”

This diverse community is not just an incidental feature of CCT students’ experience, but part of what makes the CCT program what it is, according to Evan Cain (CCT ’24), another student whose work was on display.

“You’re not limited just to stay in CCT, you can go over to Continuing Studies, you can go over to the business school, so there’s lots of different opportunities that are over here, not just limited to communication, culture, and technology,” he said. “The diversity of people [Hawatmeh] was talking about is another strength of the actual program.”

Tech & Society Week ended much as it began—with a collaborative workshop, designed to get people involved in tech. The workshop, focused on digital ethics, was interdisciplinary, with speakers from backgrounds in philosophy, business ethics, and computer science, according to the Tech & Society Week webpage. 

Participation in Tech & Society Week is important, not just for the participants but also for the world, according to Koppell. “We need to really wake up and understand the dramatic consequences of not paying attention to the issues that are cropping up in systems and really absolutely pervasive,” she said.

Annette Hasnas
Annette is a contributing editor for the Voice and a former child.

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