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2015 Symposium

Eighth Annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium, April 9 - 11, 2015

“The undergraduate ethics symposium at the Prindle Institute has really opened my eyes to the breadth of ethics through incredible conversations. The dialogue here was amazing and I cannot thank DePauw and the Prindle Institute enough.” Noor Dhadha, Barnard College at Columbia University

“UES has been one of the highlights of my academic career. The symposium provided a forum for incredible conversations about the ethical issues that our generation will face. I am so grateful for this experience, for the students and scholars I’ve met.” Lindsay Riordan, University of Virginia

“I obviously love it here, since I keep coming back! Thank you for three wonderful years!” Pippa Friedman, St. Mary's College of Maryland

The theme of the eighth annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium was "Value and Virtual Spaces." This theme encompassed ethical concerns brought to the forefront by our increasingly technological modern society. From social media and video games to online currency and net neutrality, there is an abundance of moral questions raised by the virtual world. 26 students from 22 universities around the country participated in the eighth annual symposium. Each student had a chance to workshop his or her essay with fellow students and visiting scholars. Dr. Solon Barocas (Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University), Dr. Patrick Byrne (Founder and CEO of Overstock.com), Anita Sarkeesian (Author of video blog Feminist Frequency), Matthew Kenyon (Stamps School of Art & Design at University of Michigan) led seminar discussions and each presented a lecture at the symposium. 

Dr. Solon Barocas, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, delivered the concluding lecture of the symposium. His lecture,"Leaps and Bounds: Toward a Normative Theory of Inferential Privacy," discussed the ethical nature of data mining and the inferences made from the information collected from data mining. He began his lecture by discussing the arguments that data mining is no different from inferring done by humans. He gives an example of one such typically human inference, the embarrassment one feels when purchasing birth control because of the understanding of that item, there is only one use for such item in our current world. Thus the purchaser is conscious of the cashier's ability to infer one's personal activities. This sort of inference, as Dr. Barocas explains, is one that requires an understanding of the world and is distinctly human. Data mining, in contrast, does not require any understanding of the world or social contexts. He goes on to discuss genetic information in contrast with information like shopping behaviors,

"Suddenly we are in a situation where innocuous information, information which seems totally mundane, benign, ends up being the input to some system which produces the inference about something far more sensitive...There's also this law called the Genetic Information Non Discrimination Act which is about ensuring that people are not discriminated against, largely in employment, on the basis of genetic information...Why is genetic information sensitive?...The reason genes are important and why they figure into decisions is that they are predictive of something and often highly predictive of certain things. But now we can make predictions about health using seemingly trivial information that are far more accurate than the inferences you can make using genetic information..if we can make predictions of greater accuracy using purchase history... why don't we have special laws to address the issues like we do for genetic information?"