Social Impact Internships: Kateryna Morhun (’24)
My name is Kateryna Morhun, and I am a rising Sophomore pursuing Computer Science with a focus on AI and decision-making (Course 6-4). I am particularly interested in understanding what makes ethical AI and how we can incorporate ethics and positive public impact into technological developments. This past summer, I interned as a Full-Stack Engineer for FindOurView, an AI/NLP startup that aims to distill user-generated text into easy-to-understand insights for both commercial and civic interests. I contributed to the development of the user-facing dashboard, adding useful information to the display to allow users to understand their results more deeply.
At the beginning of the calendar year, I knew that I wanted to work in the intersection between ethics and computer science, in particular machine learning. But having had no formal ethics training or experience with real-world software development, I found myself in this limbo of knowing what I want, but not how to work towards it. It was in this mind space that I found my internship for FindOurView. Their mission statement resonated with me, and I realized that by working with them, I could begin resolving this disconnect.
In addition to my internship, I took the class 24.133 (Experiential Ethics), and continued my ballroom dance classes from the MIT ballroom dance team. The three experiences had seemingly little to do with each other, but as the summer progressed, I found myriad connections between my work in FindOurView and the philosophy of both 24.133 and my dance classes, ultimately providing me with refreshing clarity on how technology can be applied for the social good, and how to avoid ethical pitfalls in the process.
24.133: Experiential Ethics
The core of 24.133 emphasizes ethics not as a problem of individual decision-making, but as a participation in moral culture and the aggregation of human actions and interpersonal interactions. One argument made for avoiding incorporating ethics into the tech world is that it would be too difficult and too costly to hire the experts and run the required training. One of the conclusions I have come to due to this class is that, while ethical interventions are still necessary for established technologies and systems, the most effective way to achieve ethical technology without “wasting resources” is by weaving ethics into everything you do from the ground up. In doing so, you can incrementally change the interactions and cultural exchanges between people, propagating those thoughts throughout social circles and improving the system as a whole.
My experience with the team at FindOurView leaves me with no doubt that they follow this philosophy. One of PKG’s tenets is Tech for Social Good, and FindOurView engages in social entrepreneurship to work towards this. Since the company frequently interfaces with media companies, journalists, and civic initiatives, and has plans to work with Twitter data and political campaigns, FindOurView engages in political community engagement, as well. The conversations I’ve had with my fellow interns, as well as members of the company, helped me to understand that no strategy of social change happens in isolation, especially not in social entrepreneurship. In order to recognize a societal problem to innovate about, you must understand the context in which the societal problem occurs, which you can only do by engaging with the people in the community you want to work with.
The team weaves ethics into everything they do. Almost all of their development and team management tools are open-source. During my time there, another pair of interns researched the societal impacts of Natural Language Processing and how to avoid unintended bias and use it for encouraging citizen participation in democracy. Every design decision was based on requests from users and they paid close attention to how to design their product to create the greatest impact and good. Even in non-work-related lunch breaks, conversations always drifted towards emerging technologies and how they might impact society in positive or negative ways, and how to prevent their negative impacts.
The most surprising connections I made this summer came from my ballroom dance classes. The key philosophy my instructors expressed is as such: Everything in the body is interconnected, even seemingly unrelated things like the tone of your tongue and the angle of your heel on the ground. Improving one area triggers chain reactions that travel across the entire system and help it run more smoothly and comfortably. Most importantly, the best way to create permanent change is to do it holistically and relentlessly, incorporating the desired change into every motion you make, especially outside the context of dance.
I experienced firsthand what I was able to achieve within my own body and dance skills by living this philosophy. By the end of the summer, I felt more in control, more stable, and more holistically healthy. I realized that this philosophy of dance is exactly the philosophy discussed in 24.133 and executed by the team at FindOurView expressed on a micro-level. Its effectiveness on this micro-level convinced me of its effectiveness on the macro-level of technology and its relationship to social good.
Thanks to my PKG internship with FindOurView, I understood that there is no need for superfluous expenses if ethics is integrated into the entire company philosophy (although experts are always welcome for advice). I gained a lot of experience in real-world software development work, learned from a career perspective what kinds of tasks I enjoy doing and what kinds of tasks I don’t, and solidified my understanding of what applied ethics looks like.
As I look forward to my future classes and career, I know that I want to intersect ethics and computer science, and I will do so by emulating the philosophy of incremental, ubiquitous, socially informed change and integrating it into everything I do.