Harvard Fellow Trystan Goetze Explores Interdisciplinary Technology Ethics

Over a catered dinner of dumplings and noodles, Harvard Postdoctoral Fellow Trystan Goetze joined students and faculty in the Tang Institute to discuss questions of ethics and technology last Friday. Although the official topic of the dinner was the ethics of gamification, the conversation also encompassed the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) generators on schools, as well as how to incorporate education on technological ethics in high school settings such as Andover. 

During the dinner, Goetze highlighted the importance of integrating STEM into humanities classes, arguing that students would be able to examine modern ethical dilemmas if given comprehensive knowledge of the technical systems involved. He cited the recent popularity of AI-generated art as an example of the value of having technical knowledge to support a philosophical argument.

“In the context of AI art… you need to understand not just the philosophy and psychology of creativity and the ethics of intellectual property, but also, how exactly do these systems even generate images and how is that similar to or different from the way people do it? It’s great that people are bringing more ethics into the CS [Computer Science] classroom, but I would like to see more people trying to bring CS and other STEM fields into philosophy into the humanities as well,” said Goetze.

Bringing with her experience conducting research into the applications of technology in biomedical research, audience member McKenzie Williams ’24 welcomed the opportunity to attend the dinner, which was open to members of the Andover community by invitation only. Williams appreciated the talk as a reminder of the importance of considering the ethical implications of new technologies. 

“I always try to remain vigilant of the work that I do and how it can be used. [In] a lot of the classes that I’ve taken, we do look at how technology can affect people, but it’s always more of an afterthought type of thing. But being in the talk puts it back at the forefront of my mind, just so that I don’t forget. While it is very, very important to learn how to program and be a good programmer, it’s almost more important to be a programmer that is ethical, and constantly aware of how things can be used so you can have the best intentions in what you do,” said Williams.

Another attendee, Julia Rocha ’25, commented on how she thinks questions surrounding technology ethics can be integrated into classes beyond computer science or philosophy at Andover. 

“I think my most valuable takeaway is that having good intentions and being mindful of how programs and applications can affect others [is important]. I also think that it’s important for Andover to understand the ethics of technology, to be aware of the underlying ways in which we use technology which could harm ourselves or indirectly harm others. Andover could include some of these topics in courses like EBI or PE, because those classes typically talk about health and well-being, so ethics of tech would fit well in the curriculum,” wrote Rocha in an email to The Phillipian.  

Goetze emphasized the importance of spreading knowledge and understanding of the ethics of technology to wider audiences. He asserted that, given modern society’s dependence on technology, understanding how new technologies work is essential to understanding the potential risks and benefits of using the technology.

“I think understanding the ethics of technology is important for everybody in society. Computing devices are everywhere in our lives now. Most of us carry smartphones, most of us work on a computer at least some [part] of the day, and most of our interactions with the world around us are mediated by computing devices somehow… [Using technology is] just becoming continuous with our ordinary behavior, and that poses a danger that the corporate entities that make these things and have a controlling interest in them could manipulate us in all kinds of different ways. So it’s in everybody’s interest to be both a savvy computer user to understand how these things work on some level, and also to understand their distinctive place in our lives,” said Goetze.