Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Area: Language Arts and Literature, Other Areas
Grade Level: High School & Beyond, Middle School
Topics: Artificial Intelligence, ChatGPT, Duty, Futurism, Obligations, Social Philosophy
Estimated Time Necessary: Ideally 75 minutes, though the plan is broken up into distinct stages to make time-modifications easier

Lesson Plan

Objectives:
Identify ethical issues raised by 21st century technology and AI
To identify the unique ethical issues that the 21st century brings, particularly with respect to technology and AI, and to recognize what makes these issues ethical in particular.
To question the benevolence of technological progress.
To articulate students’ positions–which may range from ambivalent to dogmatic–about the roles that technology and AI play, and will play in the future, in their lives.
To provide arguments for the different ‘sides’ of an ethical dilemma.

Warm-Up

Stage I (5-8 min.) To begin, instructors should have the class perform a brainstorming exercise, responding chiefly to the questions What is ethics? What makes a dilemma an ethical dilemma?. This can be done informally; students can think independently or think/pair/share with their seat neighbors before the instructor asks small groups to share their thoughts, which should be recorded in some form.

Stage II (5-8 min.) Next, students should watch this video: “Does Technology Need to be Ethical?” – The Atlantic. This brief (<2 minutes) video is intended as the jumping off point for this discussion. After showing the video, instructors should pose the question: What does this video make you wonder about? After giving students 1-2 minutes to think about this on their own, they should be invited to share their wonderings/questions with the class, either verbally (to be recorded on the board or in a document by the instructor) or by typing them into a shared document. This aspect of the warm-up can be skipped if the instructor has a shorter amount of time available.

Main Event – ChatGPT

First, instructors can begin by asking students about their familiarity with the ChatGPT software.

Then, students should read the prepared ChatGPT case text (also reproduced below). The case, importantly, doesn’t explicitly raise any ethical questions; it merely presents the ‘facts’ about the software. (~3 min.)

Next, students should brainstorm their questions about the ChatGPT software. Instructors might prompt them by asking, for instance, Why should we care about, or be worried about, ChatGPT?. As above, this can be done verbally (then recorded on the board/document), or by having students write their own questions (on the board or in a shared document). Instructors should then ask students to vote for the question that they want the discussion to begin from, and should identify the two or three questions that received the most votes. (10-12 min.)

Then, instead of immediately launching into a whole-class discussion, students should split into larger-than-pairs, but smaller-than-the-whole-class, groups. In these groups, they can pick which of the top few questions they want to begin with, and can use that as the starting point for their discussion. (10 min.)

Finally, instructors should reconvene the class as a whole, preferably sitting in a circle or some other formation that makes it easier for students to talk to and with one another. To begin the conversation, instructors might ask that a representative from each group shares something interesting that someone else in their group shared, or an interesting idea that another student had. From here, a large-group discussion can flow naturally for the remainder of the class time. (25-40 min.)

Cool-Down

Have students free-write for any remaining class time, thinking about the questions: (1) Can ethical dilemmas be solved? What would it mean for them to be solved? (2) If an engineer knows that the technology they develop will be used for unethical ends, is it still morally acceptable for them to develop it?

Case Text

ChatGPT is a generative AI software that creates unique responses to users’ inputted prompts. It was launched by OpenAI in late 2022, and the software is free to use.

“ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that allows you to have human-like conversations and much more with a chatbot. The language model can answer questions, and assist you with tasks such as composing emails, essays, and code.” (https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-chatgpt-and-why-does-it-matter-heres-everything-you-need-to-know/)

Because it is an artificial intelligence program, ChatGPT can learn from its past experiences. That is, each time it’s used helps to inform its future uses.

EXPAND TOOL TEXTCOLLAPSE TOOL TEXT

Video

Discussion Questions

  • Why should we care about, or be worried about, ChatGPT?
  • Can ethical dilemmas be solved? What would it mean for them to be solved?
  • If an engineer knows that the technology they develop will be used for unethical ends, is it still morally acceptable for them to develop it?
This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: Erica Bigelow, University of Washington.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

If you would like to change or adapt any of PLATO's work for public use, please feel free to contact us for permission at info@plato-philosophy.org.