Duquesne University Founds Center Focusing On Tech And Ethics

Jun 25, 2019

Pittsburgh is a hub for technology research and development, but sometimes innovations bear questionable results.  

To better consider tech's impact on society, this fall Duquesne University plans to open The Carl G. Grefenstette Center for Ethics in Science, Technology and Law, with a $1.5 million grant from the Hillman Foundation.

Alan Seadler, director of Duquesne University's Center for Biotechnology.
Credit Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

Duquesne is a Catholic university, and Alan Seadler, the school's director of its Center for Biotechnology, said the Grefenstette Center will focus on fundamental ethical issues from a Catholic perspective. An ethical question might consider what an autonomous vehicle should do when a person appears in the middle of the road.  

“If a pedestrian walks in front of your car, but there are other pedestrians on the side, how do you make a decision as to what to do with your vehicle?” said Seadler.

Do the ethics of the situation change if the car is on course to hit is a child, but the people on the sidewalk are adults?

“How do we endow vehicles with that kind of decision?” he said. “What is the right decision?”

Other areas the Grefenstette Center might examine include data mining and personal privacy. The center seeks to come up with viabale guidance, before a situation becomes too ethically fraught.

“We’re not going to shut Facebook down. We’re not going to shut artificial intelligence down. We’re not going to shut Uber down. These are becoming parts of our daily life,” said Seadler. “So how do we interact with them and provide ways for them to advance the technology in our society, but at the same time avoided some of the pitfalls?”

WESA receives funding from Duquesne University and the Hillman Foundation.