Oxford has said it will “decolonise” computing degree courses because of alleged slavery links to machine learning.
The university’s computer science department has revised the modules to show students “how global histories of dominance and subordination have influenced the structure of the science they see and the assumptions they encounter”.
It is committed to “understanding what it means to decolonize the curriculum and to examine preconceptions that have been held for decades, if not centuries.”
One of the oldest computer science centers in the UK, the faculty says there is a “growing awareness” that “new technologies can have detrimental effects on individuals, communities and society as a whole”.
But the department, led by Professor Leslie Ann Goldberg, has come under fire for being itself “colonized” by American radical critical race theories.
“We need to go beyond these influences to understand that they are often rooted in a colonial past that, even at its most benign, sought to impose Western standards and understandings on other countries, and at its worst enslaved and reduced local populations, creating divisions. And of value Hierarchies that have been replicated in huge datasets are often used in machine learning,” said the faculty heads.
It emerged last week that the body that advises universities on degree standards is now urging campus heads to “wake up” by decolonising most subject areas.
New advice from the Quality Assurance Agency states that computing courses must address “how colonial value divisions and hierarchies are replicated and reinforced” within the subject. While the mathematics curriculum “must present a multicultural and decolonised approach”.
The Oxford Computer Science Department has declared that “being non-racial is insufficient” because the university “benefits from and perpetuates attitudes and practices rooted in deep-seated misogyny and prejudice”.
It claims that as a result, “truly representative research requires an anti-racist position” that involves decolonization and “rejecting the conscious and unconscious biases of the past”.
The faculty’s new modules include one on computers in society and another on ethics and responsible innovation.
The move comes as British universities shift focus from humanities courses to maths, science and engineering degrees on the evils of the British Empire, despite critics saying it has no relevance to the curriculum.
The department added that “computer science itself has been characterized as a colonial system, exporting technology designed for specific cultural and social contexts to other regions of the world without regard to local needs or context”.
Therefore, it says “urgent work is needed to decolonize digital inventions, digital content, and digital data to explore how databases and images can support indigenous knowledge systems”.
Toby Young, head of the Free Speech Union, told the Telegraph: “After the takeover of the Oxford computer science department, the colonization of UK universities by America’s grievance industrial complex is complete.
“After this, it doesn’t matter what subject you choose to study at university, whether it’s English or computer science – you will be taught about critical race theory.”
One of the research projects established by Oxford’s department is the “Ethical Hackathon” model that helps students embed fairness and responsibility mechanisms into the design of tools and systems.
An Oxford University spokesman said: “All faculties regularly review and update their course syllabuses to reflect the latest developments in the subject, and recent initiatives have broadened the topics we teach and research.
“Most science courses include content that covers the ethical and social issues surrounding their subject. Such content is often formally required by accrediting bodies such as engineering institutions.