The 91st Street Moral Machine

How do the concepts of logic and morality relate to computer programming? And how do you explain that relation to students in a real-world, tangible way? That is exactly what Mr. Salzman, an Upper School Religion teacher at Sacred Heart, was asking himself earlier this year. 

He worked with Lauren Mitchell, 91st Street’s Director of Makerspace and Upper School Computer Science Teacher, to find a way to convey the connection between logic, morality, and coding to students. During their conversations, Mr. Salzman was reminded of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) moral machine. In MIT’s machine, the coder must act as a computer programmer for a self-driving car and decide what the car would do in the scenario of an impending crash. Using the MIT Moral Machine as inspiration, Mr. Salzman came up with a tangible way to demonstrate the link between morality and coding to his students. 

Using the computer programming software Python, Mr. Salzman created the 91st Street Moral Machine. Within the program, students were presented with several scenarios where their morals would be tested, such as deciding on the equitable distribution of money, hacking of quiz software, and academic cheating. Students then also had the opportunity to come up with their own Sacred Heart-themed moral dilemmas, which Mr. Salzman said they had lots of fun creating. 

Rossangel Francisco, a senior at 91st Street with a passion for coding, enjoyed that computer science was intertwined in her Theology class. 

“Though I already had a strong love for coding prior to the project, having computer science integrated into other classes always increases my interest in coding,” she said. “It demonstrates how computer science is utilized in every field- like philosophy!”

Mr. Salzman credits Ms. Mitchell’s experience with coding, the MakerSpace, and the premium software that Sacred Heart has access to, with being able to create this lesson on coding and morality for his 12th-grade Theology students.