The following was written by Poppy Watson, and originally posted in FutureScot.
A new learning resource will teach Scottish pupils about the dangers of biased computer algorithms – equipping them with the skills needed to spot and tackle inequalities such as racism, sexism and ageism.
The ‘Ethics in Tech’ lesson content is being created by Digital Skills Education, which develops and delivers digital skills projects across Scotland and internationally.
The interactive resource will show primary school pupils how personal data is used to make decisions that affect our everyday lives – whether that’s what song a music app recommends, or whether someone is eligible for free school transport.
Craig Steele, director of Digital Skills Education, says these decision-making algorithms can have benefits – but they can also go wrong.
For example, one technology company identified their algorithm used for recruiting new employees was found to be biased against women. This led to fewer women being invited to job interview.
He said: “We need to prepare the next generation of digital leaders to understand the dangers of biased algorithms. To fight inequality, they need to know how to spot them, and how to tackle them.”
The online programme will be made available free-of-charge to schools in Scotland in early 2023, before being made available worldwide.
Daniel Devine, project manager, Digital Skills Education, said: “We want to show pupils how to use data and code to make decisions in a ‘fair’ way. We’ll challenge them to create their own algorithm that uses data to rank or select students and try to be as fair as possible. They’ll implement their algorithms using computer code and see the results.”
As part of the research and development phase, the organisation wants to connect with technology professionals across the country who have experience creating algorithms that directly affect people.
The project is being funded by Scottish charity Digital Xtra Fund, which supports digital skills initiatives for young people across Scotland.
Kraig Brown, partnerships and development manager at Digital Xtra Fund, said: “Over the past six years, we’ve supported over 100 activities that have helped thousands of young people to create with technology.
“These new Ethics in Tech activities will now also encourage young people to ask if they should, ethically speaking, build something and if so, what elements they need to consider beyond the code.
“It will be one of three new Ethics in Tech projects being developed in partnership with the Scottish Government. We’re thrilled to be working with Craig and Daniel who already have lots of experience creating unique and meaningful tech activities for young people.”