Data scientists at the University of Virginia are addressing ethical, social and political issues related to technology in all new ways through The Center for Data Ethics and Justice, a reinvigorated training and research program in partnership with the Data Science Institute (DSI).  

“The Center for Data Ethics and Justice came about through a mutual recognition that the DSI wanted a strong effort to put ethics at the core of its educational and research agenda,” said Jarrett Zigon, director of UVA's Undergraduate Bioethics Program and a professor in the Department of Anthropology.

Zigon has been working with DSI Director Phil Bourne to expand the reach and value of the center, which was formerly known as the Center for Big Data Ethics, Law, and Policy. It will now also provide ethical training to the DSI’s Master of Science in Data Science students. Beyond this, it will also be a center for research on ethical and social issues surrounding data science and related technologies.

“We see justice as a key concept in this endeavor,” Zigon said, “as it brings together the ethical, social, and political in ways that a more traditional focus on law and policy might not.”

Zigon and Bourne hope that the Center for Data Ethics and Justice will become a global leader in considering the ethics of data science.

“Recent events have made clear the importance of thinking ethically about data, and this is something that the public is taking note of.” 

With the rise of technology-based communication and media, Zigon believes that there will be an increase in the public’s demand for the fair and just use of data. The Center for Data Ethics and Justice seeks not only to establish principles for data scientists themselves, but also to investigate how data influences the world around us.  

“This is a much bigger, and perhaps long term, project,” Zigon said, “about how a data-driven world and the technology this supports will in the near future begin to shape not only our world but also ourselves, as well as the way we act with one another.”

The ultimate goal of the center is to help create a future that is more ethical – for data scientists, and consumers and users of data alike.

“The center will take up the challenge of providing a vision for what a possible future data-driven world could be,” Zigon said, “and how that world could be better for all of us.”