University of Edinburgh courses without ‘Alice’ and ‘Bob’ • The Register

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A working group from the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland has proposed a series of steps to ‘decolonize’ the computer science curriculum, including trying to ‘avoid using computer science. predominantly Western names like Alice / Bob (as is common in computer security literature). “

The names Alice and Bob were used to represent two users of a public key cryptography system, described in a 1978 article by Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman, “A Method for Obtaining Digital Signatures and Public-Key Cryptosystems “. And since then, a variety of other mostly Western names like Eve – playing an earpiece intercepting communications – have been used to illustrate computer security scenarios in related academic papers.

The School of Informatics working group reflects the University of Edinburgh’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and to meeting specific obligations set out in Scottish regulations such as the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equalities Duty.

The name recommendation was reported last month by The Telegraph, which cited internal academic documents. The register filed an Freedom of Information request with the University to obtain the documents, which were added to the University’s website as a result of the Telegraph’s report.

The relevant document consists of a PDF file that describes the activities and discussions of the working group, composed of professors from the School of Computer Science Cristiana-Adriana Alexandru, Kobi Gal, Jane Hillston, Nadin Kokciyan and Vijay Nagarajan, who is also director of equality. , diversity and inclusion at the School of Computer Science.

The first days still

In a letter to The registerTessa Ewart, head of information compliance at the University of Edinburgh, explained that the ongoing decolonization effort does not translate into specific rules.

“The university does not have a specific policy or rules that state that the names ‘Alice’ and ‘Bob’ are not to be used in the context of computer security literature,” Ewart explained. “The School of Informatics has organized a series of workshops focused on decolonizing the curriculum, for faculty to consider inclusion in the curriculum and the delivery of any courses for which they are responsible.”

These conversations are summarized in a published report on activities aimed at decolonizing the computer science curriculum, of which the use of the terminology mentioned in the Telegraph article is just one example. To confirm, this report is intended to guide and inform, and is not mandated. “

The school’s website acknowledges that the term “decolonization” is poorly defined.

“Decolonization is the disruption and dismantling of colonial structures and behaviors,” the website explains, without identifying those structures or behaviors.

“It is open to interpretation what ‘decolonizing’ means in a discipline that was invented largely after the colonial era, but we take this opportunity to re-examine what we teach so that we can identify and remove any obstacles. to participation, making the program and the learning experience as inclusive as possible. “

Some of the resources provided to professors during this process indulge in rather fanciful speculation in an attempt to argue that tech companies are analogous to colonial powers. For example, this 2015 essay referenced in the workshop summary, “Technological Colonialism,” postulates that Google’s failed barge pop-up stores may have been an experiment of self-sovereignty:

“Google has a history of beta testing experiments, and the Google Barges could have been a first attempt at sea stabilization. Sea stabilization is the attempt to create non-governmental entities outside recognized borders and s “Free themselves from legal control. If technology companies could create maritime sites, then they could set up operations outside of legal restrictions.”

But the working group summary itself offers at least some additional practical suggestions on what decolonization might entail.

Examples cited in the document include “avoid using a master / slave to represent IT agents and instead use a coordinator or workers” – a decision made by many open source projects and companies in recent years – and avoid use off-putting stereotypes during teaching.

The working group summary also discusses the need to consider ethical issues such as AI biases, recognize cultural diversity by citing foundational work from non-Western cultures, and be aware of under-represented pioneers. .

The paper concludes that course instructors should review their curricula to determine how to make course content and delivery inclusive.

“The University is committed to mainstreaming equality, diversity and inclusion into all of our work and to developing a positive culture where all staff and students are able to develop to their full potential,” said Ewart. “Our continued commitment to equality and diversity plays a critical role in ensuring the University’s success as a great civic institution for students and staff.”

Even if your name is Alice or Bob. ®


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