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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Michelle Maranowski

Curator/Exhibit Designer, The Tech Museum of Innovation

Michelle Maranowski, curator/exhibit designer for The Tech Museum of Innovation, does not think small.  She is putting together The Tech’s next major exhibit, which is, she says, “focused on one of the most important problems humanity has to deal with—the survival of our species.”

The new Technology and the Environment exhibit will look at five areas: food security, biodiversity, transportation, renewable energy, and water.  “These are big problems, and they are not separate from each other,” Maranowski explains. “Turning off your lights is not going to solve a problem this big.”  For a challenge of this size, she argues, an exhibit that features “people coming in and passively consuming information is just not going to fly.”  Instead, she explains, “the goal is to get people onto a systems-thinking pathway.” 

That’s where ethics comes in. “I don’t think you can separate ethics out of this process,” Maranowski says. “Ethics is your moral map; it gets you from point A to point B.  Ethics is a big part of decision making.”

To infuse ethics into the exhibit, Maranowski has been working with Center staff as part of a larger collaboration between the Museum and the Center.  In these working sessions, Maranowski has been “particularly interested in social justice and fairness—the fact that the United States is one of the largest emitter of greenhouse gases but the bulk of negative consequences will be carried by the poor and third-world nations.  Is that fair?  I’d like to have people think about that.  Is it worthwhile for us to change our behaviors to consider that?”

The Ethics Center has also worked with The Tech on other exhibits and co-sponsored a series of talks that address the ethical issues raised by such topics as radical life extension and driverless cars. Staff have prepared a set of ethics resources for other exhibits at The Tech such as Cyber Detectives and Social Robots.

These efforts offer Silicon Valley new ways to approach innovation.  As Maranowski puts it, “You have to take ethics into account when you’re trying to come up with the right solution to a big problem.”