Graduates Challenged to Use Information's Power for Good

“With big data comes big responsibility,” said Carl Bass, the keynote speaker at the School of Information’s 2015 commencement ceremony. “Don’t mess it up!”

Bass is the president and CEO of Autodesk, which makes professional 3D design software. Bass addressed the 79 graduates from the I School class of 2015 on Saturday — 54 MIMS graduates, 23 MIDS graduates, and two new Ph.D.s.

“The size of the digital universe is about 8,000 exabytes,” Bass noted, “and every day we create 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data.”

“But now that we've got all this new data, what do we do with it? What does it mean? How can we shape this ever-expanding firehose of information into products that actually matter to customers — and maybe even to the world at large?”

While many I School grads will go to Silicon Valley jobs, Bass noted that the more “cloak-and-dagger types” might end up working for the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, or agencies that we don’t even know exist. “This is where things get really interesting,” he said.

He noted that in the past ten years government electronic surveillance has expanded by 500%, and that the NSA is collecting tens of millions of Americans’ phone records, browser history, email information, and physical location. “Those decisions to gather that kind of information on so many people were made by people like you.”

He warned the graduates that they’ll be forced to wrestle with issues of privacy — not just online shopping data, but also things like electronic medical records and data from the Internet of Things or the quantified self.

“In all seriousness, we’re counting on you,” he concluded.

The student speakers echoed Bass’s call for a commitment to professional ethics. MIDS graduate Sharon X. Lin urged her classmates to remember what they each wanted to accomplish when they started the program. “It could be to make more money — but there is a lot more you can do with data science. Some of you want to use data science to support humanitarian efforts. Some of you want to use data science to help reform higher education. And some of you want to use data science to transform health care.”

Speaking for the graduates of the MIMS program, Robyn Perry quoted an unnamed classmate: “Considering what Berkeley represents as an institution, it would be inspiring if the I School became synonymous with intelligent, meaningful, ethical, and socially-engaged professionalism in the tech sector — a place that challenges us to combine idealism with entrepreneurialism and find practical ways to make the world a better place, instead of just paying lip service to the idea while we devise new ways to make people click on ads.”

“The ongoing homework assignment you now have ahead of you is to remember what we’ve done here,” said Perry. “You no longer have the luxury of being blind to what we know you know.”

In conclusion, Perry invited the crowd of graduates to take a pledge together as information professionals:

On my honor, I will try:
To serve people and society,
to create technology for important human needs,
and to abide by the I School pledge.

I am responsible for what I design and code.
I will do my best to be
inquisitive and not condescending,
ever-mindful of privacy and security,

to combat technological determinism,
to remember that artifacts have politics,
to beware the power of defaults.
I will use and abide by technical standards.
I will design with the tussle in mind.
and I will be accountable for the things I create in the world.