Georgetown University: Title: Leading Technology and Society Researcher Joins Georgetown for the Year to Fuel Cross-Campus Innovation

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2021-10-15

A leading Microsoft Research expert and researcher who studies the intersection of technology and society has joined Georgetown as a Distinguished Visiting Professor, accelerating a university-wide initiative on technology, ethics , governance and public policies.

Danah Boyd will help foster cross-campus collaboration among interdisciplinary faculty members as part of Georgetown’s new Center for Digital Ethics and Tech & Society Initiative, a network of centers across the university that are shaping the impact of technology on ethics and policies for the public good. boyd will host conferences and seminars and teach a spring course that examines policy making and evidence-based data.

An internationally recognized authority on technology and society, boyd is a research partner at Microsoft Research, an advanced research lab where she studies how technology and society interact, with a focus on how structural inequalities are reconfigured through to technology. boyd is also the founder of Data & Society, an independent research institute, and author of It’s complicated: the social life of networked adolescents. More recently, boyd conducted an ethnographic study of the 2020 US Census to understand how data is made legitimate; the results of this study will be published in a future book.

“Danah Boyd is an internationally recognized leader in the interface between emerging technologies and their effects on society,” said Robert M. Groves, president of Georgetown University. “His participation in classes and meetings with faculty and students will make us better. Plus, his experience in building new organizations will be useful as we launch the Center for Digital Ethics.”

“World Class Thinker”

Boyd’s work will support Georgetown’s brand new Center for Digital Ethics, a central hub for digital ethics research and innovation within the university’s Tech & Society Initiative. Boyd’s background, research and multifaceted experience will help catalyze links between academics and practitioners focused on the intersection of technology and politics, said Paul Ohm, chairman of the board of directors of the Tech & Society initiative and law professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

“danah boyd is exactly the kind of world-class thinker and actor we need to help academics and practitioners solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, from privacy and surveillance to speech and democracy, racial justice and civil rights, ”he said. “I am so delighted that she is being a Distinguished Visiting Professor this year to help us lay a solid foundation for the future of our Center for Digital Ethics and Tech & Society Initiative.”

During Boyd’s early days in Georgetown, we zoomed in with her to find out what fuels her interest in technology and society, why she was drawn to Georgetown, and why it’s more important than ever to study technology and politics with an ethical perspective.

I was a kid who was on the Internet in the beginning, in 1993, when the World Wide Web was not yet a thing. It was exciting that that sound and ridiculous beep attached to a phone could connect you to people all over the world. I remember thinking, wow, computers can be made up of people! For me, technology was linked to sociology from the start.

My whole career has consisted of moving between layers of technical infrastructure, human practices and social structures.

I studied computer science at the undergraduate level to build the technical systems that empowered me so much as a youngster. In college, I started to visualize the networks of people who formed online, first in the form of Usenet traces and emails, then the networks that formed on start-ups. social media ups like Friendster and MySpace. I then sought to understand how people, and especially teens, interacted with social media. After my graduate studies, I went to Microsoft Research where I started to study the phenomenon of “big data” and I deepened my studies on privacy. In 2013, I founded a research institute, Data & Society, to collaborate with more people trying to make sense of socio-technical issues. Over the past few years, I have studied how the 2020 U.S. Census sought to produce the Data Infrastructure of Democracy, one of the most important data produced in this country.

I am a researcher from start to finish, curious at heart, fascinated by the different methods and ways of seeing the world. This is what wakes me up every day. A former undergraduate advisor once told me that as researchers we have the luxury and privilege to do research, and that we have a responsibility to profess and communicate what we learn in order to give back. . I want to learn and continue to offer knowledge to help others unlock the puzzles they struggle with.

As an academic, I did a terrible job staying in one discipline or staying focused on a single subject. This is also one of the reasons I am so happy to come to Georgetown. There are so many interesting, curious, intelligent and knowledgeable people who approach scholarship from different angles. I am delighted to work with passionate students and to learn from different members of the Georgetown community. Coming to Georgetown is like leaving a kid in a candy store.

I have known and admired Georgetown teachers in different disciplines for years. The Law Center has the largest ecosystem of lawyers specializing in the protection of privacy. The IT department includes experts in differential privacy. There are several centers that address socio-technical issues from a civil rights, racial justice and / or social justice perspective. There are science and technology researchers (STS) who understand government and how to think policy. I’m excited to work with all of these different academics and researchers, and help build bridges where possible.

Georgetown’s backyard is the federal government. There is such a need for a more solid conversation about the relationship between ethics, politics, and technology – and so I’m delighted that this is something professors are excited to come together to address. In addition, frankly, I am delighted to work with so many researchers who have made a commitment to a healthier and fairer social world through their research.

I think a lot of different disciplines are starting to recognize that technology is part of society, and always has been. Technology is not a separate thing. Technology affects every sector, every industry, the structure of every organization. Technology has also been embedded in democratic governance forever. Tackling the relationship between government and different types of innovation is essential to be able to tackle large-scale challenges.

The key to ethical thinking right now is to resist the idea that technology is neutral, apolitical, and separate. Technology is closely linked to our social values ​​and commitments; it is entwined with power and therefore ethics are a big part of the conversation whether or not you choose to ignore it. Ethics is not a checklist but a way of seeing the world.

The governance of technology occurs at all levels, from conception to policy. The choices people make in the way they design, build, use, and govern technology enclose different possible futures. These are therefore choices shaped by ethical commitments. We all need to be more aware of how we move around this world and how we build and operate the tools at our disposal. When you shape people and practices, you shape results. Georgetown is deeply committed to helping students tackle values, ethics and morals with the goal of building a more just world. As such, I am delighted that Georgetown is investing in a Center for Digital Ethics and more generally in the Tech & Society Initiative.

Editor’s Note: Danah Boyd has legally changed her name to lower case. She shares more about this decision on his website.


This press release was produced by Georgetown University. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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