“My Friend, the Algorithm” — A summer research project by Jessica Chan Ugalde ’18

Jessica Chan Ugalde ’18, majoring in both Philosophy and Computer Science, spent the summer researching the importance of ethics and philosophy in the world of technology – namely intelligent agents. An article published on the University of Puget Sound website overviews her research:

“It is immoral to limit users’ purview so much that you only see what you want to see,” the philosophy and computer science major says…

“We must establish ethical frameworks to guide the development of “intelligent agents,” she says, referring to the algorithms that bring us Facebook and Web news….

Her solution was revealed in her research paper “My Friend, the Algorithm.” Jessica proposed that intelligent agents—just like friends—should have “free agency” to choose what to show you, and that they should help you attain wisdom. That means showing you what you like, and what you don’t like, or maybe never thought of….

“Technology plays such a huge role, not only in our everyday lives, but in forming our intuitions,” she says. She argues tech companies should take part in philosophical discourse—and that they would benefit from it. Highly ethical firms could attract the best workers, and thoughtful debate would hone the critical thinking skills needed in their collaborative industry….

Jessica’s own goal is to write, and to shine a light on contentious ethical issues. Should she succeed, the computing world may get no peace until it finds the algorithm that is, indeed, our friend.

During her research, Jessica was supervised by Sara Protasi from the Department of Philosophy and David Chui from the Department of Computer Science.