Ethics in Mathematics 2020-21 course page

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This is the course page of Dr Maurice Chiodo's online lecture course on Ethics in Mathematics for 2020-21. It contains all details about when the course will be held, how to access the lectures and discussion sessions, as well as all the usual course material such as syllabus, notes, etc.


This course on Ethics in Mathematics aims to give an overview of the sorts of effects mathematicians and mathematical work can have on society, detail the instances where this work can cause harm, and discuss what leads to this work being harmful and what might be done to possibly avert such harm. It is one of the few courses of its type in the world being delivered within a mathematics department.

This is not a course on ethical frameworks, nor is it a philosophy course. We will not be discussing what is right and wrong, but instead explore the fact that there is right and wrong when doing mathematical work. This is a course to raise fundamental ethical awareness among mathematicians, not to give axioms of ethics or an algorithm for ethical decision-making.


In past years, the course has consisted of weekly 2-hour sessions; the first hour was lecture content prepared by me, and the second hour was an open discussion with the audience based (loosely) on the content presented in the first hour. While it was the first hour that contained the most information, the second hour was often the more interesting and productive for those in attendance as ideas could be explored, developed, and scrutinised.

This year, the course will be given entirely online. Fortunately, there already exists a full recording of the first hour of each session from an earlier year (Michaelmas 2018), and these are already available online. Thus, the format for this year will be to:
1. Watch the pre-recorded lecture from 2018, then
2. Attend a live online discussion session with me.

The pre-recorded lectures are available on the webpage of the Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Project (CUEiMP) here, as whole 1-hour lectures. Those same recordings are also available on YouTube here, broken down into 20 minute pieces.

The online discussion sessions will be held at the following Google Meet room:

Sessions will be recorded, for CUEiMP internal reference only, and will not be made publicly available. Moreover, participants not wanting to be recorded will be given clear instructions on how to participate, ask questions, etc, in a way such that they are not recorded.
Please do not make your own recordings of the sessions. Anyone found to have started a recording will be removed from the session.

Special thanks go to the Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Society (CUEiMS); a student society who have very kindly offered to help host and moderate these discussion sessions. If you sign up to the CUEiMS mailing list, you will receive relevant updates about the online discussion sessions, such as last-minute changes of schedule or meeting room. You can unsubscribe at any time.


The live discussion sessions will start at 16:00 every Tuesday during Michaelmas term. They will follow the pre-recorded lectures according to the following schedule:

(13/10) 1. An introduction to ethics in mathematics and why it is important.
(20/10) 2. Financial mathematics and modelling.
(27/10) 3. Cryptography, surveillance and privacy.
(3/11) 4. Fairness and impartiality in algorithms and AI.
(10/11) 5. Regulation, accountability, and the law.
(17/11) 6. Understanding the behaviour of the mathematical community.
(24/11) 7. Psychology 101 - how to survive as a mathematician at work.
(1/12) 8. Looking into the future, more can mathematicians do?

You are free to watch the pre-recorded lecture at any time before the discussion session. It might be best to try and watch it on the day of the live discussion, so that it is fresh in your mind.


Here is a course syllabus, which includes useful references.

Course notes:
I have some lecture notes written up from the 2019-20 incarnation of this course. These are somewhat rough, and simply serve to outline the main ideas of each lecture in 4-6 pages, with a few useful links. If you would like a copy of these, please email me.

I've now set some optional winter essays for this course, for you to complete over the Christmas break. There are a variety of titles to choose from. Please conact me (from your @cam email account) before Christmas if you're planning on submitting an essay. They are due in late January.