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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fostering Responsible Computing Research: Foundations and Practices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26507.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fostering Responsible Computing Research: Foundations and Practices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26507.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fostering Responsible Computing Research: Foundations and Practices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26507.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Fostering Responsible Computing Research: Foundations and Practices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26507.
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Summary Computing technologies were once the purview of computing researchers and professionals, with their use largely confined to corporate, defense, laboratory, or other closed environments with a limited number of users. Today, they are woven into our personal and work lives; our economic, social, educational, and political institutions; and the constructed environment around us. Computing research ideas are continually integrated into existing systems and regularly lead to entirely new technologies. The impacts of new developments in computing technology are often hard to predict and larger than anticipated. Few fields rival computing for the speed with which research advances are deployed and used by millions of people. Computing research—a term used in this report to include research in computer science and engineering, information science, and related fields—thus cannot simply focus narrowly on development of innovative computing methods and systems. Responsible research requires that the ethical and societal impacts of computing research and the technologies the research enables be first-order concerns of the computing research community. To ensure that computing research addresses these impacts and concerns and supports human flourishing, thriving societies, and a healthy planet, computing researchers must consult and collaborate with scholars and researchers in the humanities and social and behavioral sciences, particularly but not only those who study moral reasoning or the empirical analysis of sociotechnical systems or who can help cultivate moral imagination about alternative outcomes. An understanding of fundamental ethical concepts (see Section 2.1) will enable computing researchers to engage in careful analysis and decision- making about ethical challenges. Likewise, an understanding of the sociotechnical approach (see Section 2.2)—which draws on social theories and social scientific research methodologies—will enable computing researchers to identify the benefits and risks that accompany the introduction of novel technologies into societal contexts. Importantly, this does not mean that computer scientists, computer engineers, and information scientists are expected to become expert ethicists and social scientists but rather that they should collaborate with experts in other disciplines who can bring this expertise to bear as computing research is designed and carried out. Failure to consider consequences early in research increases the risk of adverse ethical or societal impacts. Scholarship in the field of design (see Section 3.4.4) has developed approaches that enable principled considerations of potential consequences and envisioning alternatives in the design space. A well-known design principle in computing illuminates the importance of considering ethical and societal impact issues in research: it is much easier to design a technology correctly from the start than it is to fix it later. To identify and explore potential sources of ethical challenges and societal concerns associated with computing research, the study committee heard from experts at the intersection of computing and the domains of healthcare, work and labor, civil and criminal justice, and governance. The committee also heard from industry and government research managers. Combining insights gleaned from these experts and the theoretical foundations from ethics and sociotechnical systems yielded a set of illustrative ethical and societal concerns for computing research that are discussed in Chapter 3. These examples of concerns fall into four groups; those that arise from (1) features of the societal settings into which new computing technologies are introduced; (2) limitations of human capabilities and ways they interact with features of computing technologies and the societal contexts in which computing technologies may be used; (3) PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 1

features of the societal contexts into which computing technologies may be integrated that influence computing system design and deployment choices; and (4) system robustness problems caused by failure to follow best practices in design and implementation. For each concern, there are opportunities and obligations for computing researchers in collaboration with social and behavioral scientists and ethicists to address them. Because many of the problems uncovered arise from misinterpretation or unintended uses of research results, it is incumbent on researchers to act to minimize the possibility of misinterpretation or misuse of their research results. These concerns point to three conclusions that underlie the recommendations that follow: Conclusion 1. To be responsible, computing research needs to expand to include consideration of ethical and societal impact concerns and determination of effective ways to address them. Conclusion 2. To be responsible, computing research needs to engage the full spectrum of stakeholders and deploy rigorous methodologies and frameworks that have proven effective for identifying the complicated social dynamics that are relevant to these ethical and societal impact concerns. Conclusion 3. For computing technologies to be used responsibly, governments need to establish policies and regulations to protect against adverse ethical and societal impacts. Computing researchers can assist by revealing limitations of their research results and identifying possible adverse impacts and needs for government intervention. This third conclusion stems from the observation that the design and deployment of computing technologies are shaped by a combination of corporate decision-making, incentives set by the market and government regulation, and decisions made by organizations in acquiring the technologies. These factors are the proper realm of societies, which determine norms, and of governments, which institute mechanisms to enforce those norms. Nevertheless, computing researchers have responsibilities related to societal and ethical concerns arising from these technologies. The report’s recommendations are collectively aimed at all actors in the computing research ecosystem, including researchers; organizations that sponsor and carry out research in academia, industry, and government; scientific societies; and scholarly publishers. They define practices to help foster responsible computing research, including identification and mitigation of potential harms as well as promotion of research providing ethical and societal benefits. The recommendations are organized into eight high-level recommendations, listed below. Each recommendation is accompanied by supporting subrecommendations indicating practical steps to be taken to implement the recommendation. These subrecommendations are summarized below and listed in full and discussed further in Chapter 4. Several of the recommendations necessitate adapting processes and approaches in the research ecosystem or developing new ones to meet the needs of responsible computing research. There is, as yet, little if any empirical data on the performance of different practical steps for incorporating considerations of ethical and societal impacts in computing research or approaches to responsible computing research more generally. Acquiring such data is necessary for advancing responsible computing research throughout the ecosystem. As with innovation in science and engineering, the innovations called for in these recommendations therefore require ongoing assessment and revision to determine what works best. Subrecommendations to do so are thus included under the relevant top-level recommendations. Recommendation 1. The computing research community should reshape the ways computing research is formulated and undertaken to ensure that ethical and societal consequences are considered and addressed appropriately from the start. PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 2

In developing and carrying out their projects, researchers should include participants with germane expertise in the social and behavioral sciences, ethics, and any domains of application involved; and if their projects aim for societally relevant outcomes, they should involve relevant stakeholders throughout the research. Publications and other accounts of their research should discuss possible limitations and any downstream risks of artifacts as well as algorithms and other computing methods. Recommendation 2. The computing research community should initiate projects that foster responsible computing research, including research that leads to societal benefits and ethical societal impact and research that helps avoid or mitigate negative outcomes and harms. Both research sponsors and research institutions should encourage and support the pursuit of such projects. To advance such responsible, societally beneficial research projects and facilitate the multidisciplinary research called for in Recommendation 1, research sponsors and universities should support new kinds of projects and new types of partnerships with companies and philanthropies. To enable and incentivize researchers to participate in such research, (1) research sponsors should provide sufficient resources for the participation of scholars from fields other than computer science and engineering and of stakeholders, and (2) research institutions’ performance review processes and tenure and promotion committees should value both disciplinary and multidisciplinary scholarship on the ethical and societal impacts of computing research. Recommendation 3. Universities, scientific and professional societies, and research and education sponsors should support the development of the expertise needed to integrate social and behavioral science and ethical thinking into computing research. Academic institutions should reshape their computer science and engineering curricula and curricula in social and behavioral sciences and the humanities to better equip students to address the ethical and societal impacts of computing, and to support their graduates’ abilities to assist public and private sector institutions in making better decisions as they acquire computing technologies. Concomitantly, scientific and professional societies as well as research sponsors should provide training opportunities for computing researchers to gain proficiency in carrying out and assessing responsible computing research. Recommendation 4. Computing research organizations—working with scientific and professional societies and research sponsors—should ensure that their computing faculty, students, and research staff have access to scholars with the expertise to advise them in examining potential ethical and societal implications of proposed and ongoing research activities, including ways to engage relevant groups of stakeholders. Computing researchers should seek out such advice. To buttress responsible computing research efforts, research institutions, scientific societies, and research sponsors should develop ways for computing researchers to identify scholars with the ethical, societal impact, and domain expertise their projects require and provide support for such scholars to collaborate in the research. Research sponsors also should support the development and sharing of educational materials and descriptions of best practices. Recommendation 5. Sponsors of computing research should require that ethical and societal considerations be interwoven into research proposals, evaluated in proposal review, and included in project reports. Research proposals should describe in an integrated fashion the ethical and societal considerations associated with the proposed work and not in a separate section. Research sponsors should ensure that PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 3

project review panels are provided with appropriate evaluation criteria and have the requisite expertise to evaluate these considerations, and they should require that project reports address ethical and societal issues that arise. Recommendation 6. Scientific and professional societies and other publishers of computing research should take steps to ensure that ethical and societal considerations are appropriately addressed in publications. The computing research community should likewise take steps to ensure that these considerations are appropriately addressed in the public release of artifacts. Conferences and journals should establish evaluation criteria and metrics to be used in assessing a paper’s treatment of ethical and societal impacts and provide guidelines for authors and reviewers. They should encourage researchers to report unanticipated ethical or societal consequences of their research and to provide guidance to future researchers interested in using the results of their research. They should also establish criteria for determining whether and how to release artifacts. Recommendation 7. Computing researchers who are involved in the development or deployment of systems should adhere to established best practices in the computing community for system design, oversight, and monitoring. Researchers should also be transparent about the capabilities, maturity, and limitations of any artifacts they produce and document their design assumptions. Recommendation 8. Research sponsors, research institutions, and scientific and professional societies should encourage computing researchers to engage with the public and with the public interest and support them in doing so. Specific opportunities for such engagement include informing the public, assisting public and private sector acquirers of computing technologies, and bringing potential adverse consequences of emerging technologies to the attention of governments and other public organizations. In addition, universities, research sponsors, and scientific societies should create opportunities for computing researchers to learn how to effectively serve in advisory capacities. *** Computing researchers will not be able to eliminate every potential ethical or societal problem in the computing research ecosystem. They can, however, be proactive in contributing to the benefit of society and in identifying risks and avoiding potential harms. Doing so requires that they broaden the scope of computing research in ways that these recommendations propose. It also requires that assessments of computing research encompass not only performance analysis and mathematical advances but also evaluation of potential ethical issues and societal impacts—thus requiring research organizations and scientific and professional societies to make changes as well. The recommendations are also intended to have downstream impacts. First, researchers following the recommendations will provide a model not only for other researchers but also for technology developers and deployers. Second, the recommendations for changes in computing education will help ensure that future computing professionals across industry, not just in research, are better equipped to address ethical and societal concerns. PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 4

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With computing technologies increasingly woven into our society and infrastructure, it is vital for the computing research community to be able to address the ethical and societal challenges that can arise from the development of these technologies, from the erosion of personal privacy to the spread of false information.

Fostering Responsible Computing Research: Foundations and Practices presents best practices that funding agencies, academic organizations, and individual researchers can use to formulate and conduct computing research in a responsible manner. This report explores ethical issues in computing research as well as ways to promote responsible practices through education and training.

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