SC23 Proceedings

The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis

Birds of a Feather

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Ethics in HPC

Authors: Jay Lofstead (Sandia National Laboratories), Jakob Luettgau (French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA))

Abstract: HPC changes the world and society around us on a daily basis. Ensuring that HPC resources are both used ethically and are ethically available is of utmost importance to ensure a more equitable world. With our first BoF in 2019 and annually since (save 2020's Covid limitation) and expansion to ISC 2023 as well, we are fostering discussion with the community about what our ethical standards should be and fostering lively discussion debating these standards. This BoF will continue this tradition while incorporating, for the first time, efforts for establishing specific ethical principles driving toward a formal community declaration.

Long Description: Ethical concerns in science can be traced back for centuries. With accelerating innovation and an increasing impact of HPC on daily life, however, it is more important than ever to have these discussions. The goal of this BoF is to foster this community-wide discussion on ethics in HPC on issues such as what responsibilities we have as practitioners in the field and how best to ensure that ethical concerns are considered in the development and implementation of HPC applications. We do not propose that we can reach answers on any discussed topic, but rather are seeking to foster discussion to encourage the conversations to continue in SC and other venues. The BoF deliberately does not restrict or proscribe particular areas of discussion. However, the following provides suggestions for possible topics.

HPC as a widely applied computational tool is ethically neutral, although some applications rest in gray areas, such as oil and gas exploration, maintaining nuclear weapons, mining personal information for targeted ads or mass surveillance. In addition, As a technology that can be abused, we must consider what, if anything, the community should do to ward against this.

With applications like weather and flood forecasting capable of both saving lives and property unequally distributed across the world, finding ways to mitigate these gaps is of utmost importance. Discussing topics, such as HPC outreach and observational data collection and modeling assistance to reduce recovery aid necessary can have a profound impact on the developing world, in particular. Who bares the cost and how proprietary models are managed must be agreed upon for fairness to all.

We should also consider whether HPC is perpetuating inequality. Women and people of color remain greatly underrepresented also within HPC communities, perhaps this lack of diversity is an inhibitor to the field.

With many workloads incorporating machine learning directly affecting people’s lives, participants may wish to address some of the ethical issues raised by HPC enabled ML/AI. The new generative AI systems using large language models are already generating good enough results that many fear creative disciplines, including things like software engineering, may have significantly fewer people needed. The copyright releases and licensing necessary to train these models and how the tech giants are amassing the training data sets are both of legal and ethical concern. Whether or not these technologies are ethical or even legally created is still open for debate.

All of these topic areas offer a rich foundation for discussion on how HPC and HPC-enabled capabilities affect people not just in the developing world, but increasingly across the entire globe. With the massive energy and computational cost for creating and using both AI/ML models and physics models, the environmental impacts of both the energy use as well as the "obsolete" previous generation tools must be factored into any decision about how and when to use this technology.

This BoF seeks to continue the excellent discussion from previous years to continue to raise awareness and to work towards agreed upon ethical standards.


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