Visiting Scholar in Ethics and Creating
September 29, 2020

From Andover to Facebook...back to Andover again

Matthew Appleby ’11 returns to Andover as researcher and teacher in Ethics and Creating.
by Matthew Appleby

When I joined Facebook three years ago, I was told that I'd be solving some of the world's hardest problems. As a mechanical engineer there, I developed virtual reality headsets that could survive being dropped from significant heights and miniaturized camera systems that allowed for smaller form-factor devices. Yet as I reflect upon my time there, I see clearly that the truly hard problems are not engineering problems.

Many of today's truly hard problems - climate change, digital privacy, reliable voting systems, inequality, and public health - lie at the intersection of engineering and ethics, with further connections to sociology, philosophy, history, and policy. As a result, these problems require interdisciplinary thinking and reflection. We should not simply ask how to build. Instead, we need to ask why we build: What good am I serving with my feat of engineering? How do we apply new technological capabilities for the good of humanity?

When I joined Facebook three years ago, I was told that I'd be solving some of the world's hardest problems...yet as I reflect upon my time there, I see clearly that the truly hard problems are not engineering ones.

Matthew Appleby '11 Visiting Scholar in Ethics and Creating

Many advancements in technology have, of course, been good. Consider the connections we all have been able to maintain via reliable video calling during an era of lockdowns and travel restrictions. But much of that same technology has been built in a way that exploits our reliance on it for profit. Platforms that connect us to friends and family also track our behavior across the internet and in the physical world, deriving insights about our personalities, political views, and consumer habits, infringing on our individual freedom without providing any ways to truly opt-out. The technology students interact with now is still largely unchecked and unregulated and increasingly advanced and insidious. It is far more influential in their lives than it was when I was a student at Andover. This means an educational framework for understanding these hard problems will be crucial for all students.

For the next two years, I will rejoin the Andover community as the Tatelbaum Visiting Scholar in Ethics and Creating. I will explore these questions in classes with students, collaborations with faculty peers, and my own research and writing. I plan to host seminars (or webinars) to discuss topics of interest to the community. I will develop new coursework for the Ethics of Technology course and I will connect Philosophy coursework to Andover’s Makerspace, the Nest, once we can safely do so. These interactions with students will give me first-hand opportunities to better understand the technology that students interact with, allowing me to write and publish here on the Tang Institute blog and elsewhere. I hope that this work contributes to a broader change in educational values, leading the next generation of engineers to be guided by an ethical code that values lives and liberty over self-enrichment. In other words, Non Sibi.


Matthew Appleby ’11 is the Visiting Scholar in Ethics and Creating. He has a B.S. in Product Design and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. He previously worked at Facebook as a mechanical engineer designing Oculus virtual reality products. He would like to thank Joe Tatelbaum ’78 for his vision in supporting the position of the Tatelbaum Visiting Scholar in Ethics and Creating at the Tang Institute.

Categories: News

Other Posts

the ethi{CS} project
the ethi{CS} summer project

CS teachers come together to develop curriculum that delivers both technical and ethical training to students.

LITW task force brainstorming session
Learning in the World: A New Chapter

LITW enters a new phase: as an independent campus entity