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UW 'Designing For Evil' Class Teaches How To Make Technology For The Greater Good

Paula Wissel

When a new technology comes out, there is a lot of focus on the good it will do. It’s touted as something that will better connect people or even save lives. But a University of Washington professor is encouraging students who will be entering the tech industry to focus on the evil it might do.

Alexis Hiniker, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Information School, created a class called Designing for Evil. She says the first few weeks is a sort of crash course in ethics. The students study various philosophies and learn about moral reasoning.

Then they redesign existing technologies through an ethical lens, looking at everything from surveillance systems to social media sites.

Students will be presenting their final projects from 1:45-3:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Mary Gates Hall atrium on the University of Washington campus.

Hinkiker says in one exercise students looked for ways to redesign sites like Reddit.

“They came up with things like platforms that promote cooperation or sharing with each other and they ended up with a very different design than if they tried to just create a platform where people engage with each other,” Hiniker said.

Knowing that most of her students will be entering the technology field, Hiniker says her goal is to have them think about design beyond just what they would like to use themselves to what kind of an effect it will have on people’s lives.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.