Students and experts talk using ‘4’ technology well

Carson Mogush is technical lead for USC’s Code the Change, an organization that develops free technology for nonprofits. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

Students, alongside tech industry professionals, spoke at the first-ever Tech4Good student symposium on Tuesday evening at Auditorium Bovard. Startup founders, ethical tech advocates, and programmers included in programming spoke about the potential dangers of technological advancement and how they’ve found ways to use technology for social good.

Coordinated by Shift SC, a student organization focused on “human-centered and socially responsible technology,” the event brought together more than 30 USC students and community members.

Adam Novak, a junior majoring in computer science and East Asian languages ​​and cultures, founded Shift SC last year to spark a conversation about the ethical issues and potential consequences posed by technology, despite its benefits.

“We’re basically looking at the ways technology creates unintended consequences in society and how we can evolve technology as a whole for the better,” Novak said.

Caroline Kenney, Shift SC Symposium Initiative Manager, opened the event by explaining why she joined the organization and planned the event. She was inspired by her father, who lost his hearing completely as a child. When he had his daughter, he decided to get a cochlear implant so he could hear her voice. Kenney said he saw firsthand how technology could be used to improve, even transform, people’s lives.

“I envisioned the Tech4Good Student Symposium as an opportunity for USC students to share how they’ve used technology to improve human life,” said Kenney, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering. “Part of what makes the USC community so special is that our students want to change the world. This event highlights students who are changing the world through technology.

After Kenney’s keynote, Novak spoke to the audience about his journey from being a USC freshman in love with tech and programming — but somewhat disappointed by the lack of ethics discussions. and social responsibility in his computer science classes – to his experience of summering in a Buddhist monastery living as a monk and returning to USC with a newfound desire to harness the power of technology for social good.

“I wanted to address that disorientation and loneliness that I felt as a freshman by finding other people who similarly care about how technology affects our society,” Novak said. “All of us had come to the same conclusion: we need a change in technology.”

David Jay, Head of Engagement at the Center for Humane Technology, delivered the symposium’s keynote address. The Center, which was involved in the production of the 2020 Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma”, shares a similar mission to Shift SC, centered on “human technology that supports our well-being, democracy and the shared information environment. “. Jay classified the dilemma of the societal impact of technology as a crisis, similar to that of climate change.

“In the same way that it is incredibly profitable to extract carbon from the ground and release it into the air, it is incredibly profitable to attract your attention and develop technology that attempts to manipulate your behavior,” said said Jay. “While it’s incredibly profitable, it’s also incredibly harmful.”

Part of Jay’s speech took on an upbeat tone, comparing today’s ethical tech movement to the nascent environmental sustainability movement of the 1990s. He also informed the audience about two bills pending in the California legislature that regulate how companies develop technology for children.

After Jay’s keynote, USC alumni Brian Femminella and Travis Chen spoke to the audience about SoundMind, a music and vision therapy app they developed together. The app is for people with anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health issues.

“Technology shouldn’t be something we fear,” Chen said. “It’s part of what this world has become and what we’ve adapted to, so being able to use technology for positive things and looking at it in a way that can help us, help our mental well-being and help our mental health – that’s what we want people to get out of [our speech].”

Student speakers at the event included Carson Mogush, technical lead for USC’s Code the Change; Surya Nehra, an elderly person who developed a model to predict disease in areas where data is less available; and Arman Patel, president of Effective Altruism USC.

The final student speaker for the event was Manushri Desai, a graduate in public policy and health studies. Desai has also spoken at the United Nations twice, in 2019 and 2020, and gave a TEDxUSC talk in March. Her talk at the symposium centered on her experience in the disability justice movement and the role of technology in it. Desai partnered with Voice of Specially Able People, an organization dedicated to the advancement of people with disabilities, to develop a physical accessibility mobile app map at various USC locations.

“The disability justice movement is so inextricably linked to all of us in so many ways that we don’t easily realize it,” Desai said in an interview with The Daily Trojan. “Just being able to connect with others one-on-one through the Tech4Good Symposium platform really provided me with a timely space to express how people could make a difference in this area, and in particular with the use of technology.”

Novak, like many of the speakers he, Kenney and their team brought to the event, spoke optimistically about the future of technology despite its current and potential consequences of which he warned.

“I spoke with leaders of similar student organizations across the country,” Novak said in his remarks. “Whether it be [Los Angeles], Palo Alto, Boston, everywhere, students like us feel the same way. We see the problems that technology has created; we see problems that technology can solve and we see that we have the ability and the responsibility to do something about them.

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