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Communications of the ACM


Science, Policy, and Service

Science, Policy, and Service, illustration

Credit: Nextgov

For many computer scientists, the thrill of impactful technical inventions and fast-moving innovation is what pulled us into this field originally and is what keeps us here. But as computer systems impact society ever more deeply, questions arise regarding the societal implications of the technologies we are building, and from there the conversation often shifts to questions of policy and regulation. When it comes to privacy, security, and other crucial issues, what should be expected of these computer systems that are increasingly ubiquitous? How should computer systems be managed and regulated? Just as importantly, who should make those decisions? How will policy experts grapple with developing regulatory and governance decisions about the deeply complex technologies we are developing, and who will help them understand what they need to know?

From its roots supporting trajectory calculations and cryptography during the wars in the first half of the 20th century, computing technology has been deeply intertwined with policy and government issues. But the societal and personal impact of our inventions is becoming more and more apparent and urgent. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are now integral to a profound array of real-world applications, from autonomous vehicles to law enforcement. Internet of Things (IoT) devices and systems are being built and sold that affect human health and safety in myriad ways; they control the electrical grid, manage transportation, meter out medicine dosages, and control the front-door locks on houses. More than ever before, CS as a field faces deep responsibility for creating algorithms, devices, and systems that operate in a manner that is reliable, secure, ethical, and fair.


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