The Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing (SERC), a cross-cutting initiative within the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, in collaboration with the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, invites MIT students to envision the future of computing.

Tell us your ideas, aspirations, and vision for what you think the future holds. The winning entry of the Envisioning the Future of Computing Prize competition will be awarded a grand prize of $10K. In addition, we will award $5K to two runner ups, and $500 to 10 honorable mentions. Submissions are due by midnight on February 28, 2023.

Jump to category: The Assignment | Goals of the Prize | Eligibility | Submission Details | Prizes | Paid ELO Opportunity | Judging


The Assignment

Advances in computing will transform human society in fundamental ways.

Some transformations may be for the worse. It may be that we lose privacy. It may be that we lose autonomy. It may be that algorithms systematically entrench unfairness. And, in the long run, weaponized AI may destroy us all. These things are eminently worth thinking about.

But some transformations may be for the better. These things are eminently worth thinking about too. Now you can win a prize for thinking about them.

In no more than 3,000 words —

  • Describe a particular computing-related technology that could, on balance, improve our lives. Describe the particular ways in which it could improve our lives (it could be a new, yet-to-be-developed technology, or an existing technology that can be used in novel ways).
  • Describe the particular social pitfalls and dangers associated with the technology.
  • Explain how the net social effects could be on-balance-positive.

You are welcome (thought not obliged) to include pictures, graphs, charts, tables of data, etc. in your submission. Please also include a one-page summary of your essay (and don’t worry about repeating yourself in the summary).

Goals of the Prize

  • We want to encourage MIT students to think in a creative, informed and rigorous way about the societal benefits and costs of the technologies they are or will be developing.
  • We want to show MIT students that MIT values such thinking.
  • We want to show the outside world that MIT values such thinking.

    Eligibility

    This prize is open to all presently-enrolled MIT students, undergraduate or graduate. You are free to enter as an individual or as a team.

      Submission Details

      All submissions should adhere to the guidelines below. Any submissions that do not follow these guidelines may be disqualified from the competition.

      • The naming convention of your file should be “Title of Essay_MIT ID#”.
      • The file name should not include your name, as all entries will be judged anonymously.
      • The file should be a PDF.

        Further, to ensure academic integrity, students will attest to the following on submission:

        All of the writing here is my own. this means that anything quoted verbatim from another source appears within quotation marks and is accompanied by a footnote1 that identifies the source. It means that I have not paraphrased another person’s writing without making it explicit that I am doing so — I recognize that changing the words does not make it my writing. And it means that whenever I have drawn insights or ideas from another source (including friends, including anonymous authors of material on the internet), I have credited that source in a footnote.

        All entries must be submitted by midnight on February 28, 2023. Please submit your application materials to serc@mit.edu.

        Prizes

        The following prizes will be awarded:

        • $10K to the winning entry
        • $5K each to the two runner ups
        • $500 each to up to 10 honorable mentions

        Undergraduates will receive their money just prior to graduation.

        For first, second, or third year undergraduate winners, we will also offer a full-year funded research opportunity.

                  Paid ELO Opportunity

                  The Provost and the Dean of the Schwarzman College of Computing will sponsor up to 30 students with a $2K stipend for undergraduates to develop and refine their ideas under the supervision of a SERC postdoc. Undergraduates interested in this opportunity should contact Cory Harris at serc@mit.edu to register their interest as soon as possible.


                        Judging

                        Stage One

                        All entries will be judged anonymously by a panel of faculty. The prize administrators will ensure that any scores issued by members of the panel to their own students will be discarded. The panel will judge entries by whether they are:

                        • Clearly Articulated: Does this essay clearly explain, in terms accessible to an educated layperson (think of someone who has completed the General Institute Requirements at MIT, but is not working in this area), what the technology is, and (if undeveloped) what it would take to develop it? Does this essay clearly explain what the social effects of the technology could be, and how they could be on-balance positive?
                        • Thorough: Does this essay make a serious effort to consider all of the social effects of technology, good and bad? Does the essay bring sufficient detail to its analysis, while remaining efficient and succinct?
                        • Grounded: Is development of the technology described in this essay feasible? Are the social effects described in this essay likely? Does this essay back up its claims about feasibility and likelihood with evidence and/or argument?
                        • Imaginative: Does the essay show imagination in thinking through the ways in which the technology it describes may impact our lives?
                        • Inspiring: Could this essay inspire people to work on developing the technology it describes in the way it describes, and inspire people to conduct similar analyses of other technologies?

                        Stage Two

                        The judging panel will invite up to three finalists to a live, public, final round and award ceremony in April. At the event, each finalist will give a 20-minute presentation on their entry. Their final score, determining the winner, will be 75% of their original score + 25% of their presentation score.


                        1Name of author, name of piece, place of publication, date of publication