Student researchers took it upon themselves to analyze Stanford’s sinuous and influential history with technology and Silicon Valley.
Stanford History of Technology Project, which began last August and ended in April, seeks to analyze the technological changes that have taken place at Stanford and Silicon Valley since 2010. It highlights the university’s shortcomings in technological diversity and makes recommendations for Stanford organizations.
The project was carried out by 13 team leaders and over 50 students who conducted and analyzed over 50 datasets and 80 interviews. Former Daily Editor-in-Chief Julia Ingram ’21 and Daily Opinion writer Nik Marda ’21 MS ’21 served as project directors, bringing together student leaders to coordinate projects which resulted in a 370-page final . report after nine months of work.
Marda hopes that the “data, analysis and recommendations from the project will help maintain Stanford’s status as a leading center for innovation and engineering, increase diversity and inclusion in technology at Stanford, and create more technologies for the sake of ethics and public interest ”.
The project highlighted areas for improvement for the University by highlighting current gaps. Isabel Gallegos ’22, president of the Society of Latinx Engineers, was co-leader of the diversity team alongside former Daily employee Ruth Ann Armstrong ’21. In his work, Gallegos examined how minority representation has changed within Stanford’s computer science and electrical engineering departments over the past decade.
She found that while these departments had made strides in inclusiveness, “it was alarming how few underrepresented minority students graduated [computer science] CS and [electrical engineering] EE, and the lack of representation at the faculty level. Gallegos believes this reflects the systemic issues low-income and minority students face in American education.
The project also inspired change through its recommendations to Stanford organizations, some of which have already been taken into account, according to Marda. He noted that the project “advised that the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence should publish its list of donors, which it had not done for over a year despite multiple requests from our team and HAI’s false claims that it had published the list. Just hours after the release of the Tech History Project, HAI released its list of donors.
HAI denies that the project’s recommendation influenced their release of information, stating that their list of donors was “released before we became aware of the release of the report” and was in line with their fundraising policy. According to Marda, the Tech History Project had been urging HAI to publish its donor list since November 2020, and HAI was more than a year behind in meeting its pledge to make its annual donor information available.
For these initiatives and more, the Tech History Project has worked with students, experts, and organizations from many different areas of Stanford. Gallegos was “grateful to have had the opportunity to work on this project and to be able to work with so many diverse people from so many different organizations on campus who all brought their own perspective.”
The project was largely student-led, although computer science professor Mehran Sahami ’92 MS ’93 Ph.D. ’99, associate professor of computer science Michael Bernstein ’06, and teacher Ruth Starkman writing and rhetoric, served as teaching guides. Bernstein credits the students for completing the project. He said its impacts “were miniscule compared to the people who organized and led the effort.”
“It was fascinating to see the tech story of the 2010s replayed through the lens of the values of the 2020s,” said Bernstein.