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042514i-VW-Holocaust

Live around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and you get used to the surprising. The institute community as a whole tends to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast and probably knocks at least two off the list by lunch.

But Saturday may be the most improbable thing MIT has done, as its Hillel organization has set aside a single hour for a public panel discussion on “Holocaust and Technology: When Technology becomes Evil.”

To give a sense of how much the talk will pack into an hour, here’s the organization’s description:

The Holocaust was one of the most efficient attempted genocides in history. Complicit in that efficiency were companies we know today – like IBM and VW. But beyond the efficiency, there was also a substantial scientific bent to the Holocaust, ranging from medical experiments to the development of the atomic bomb.

Some of the ethical questions have already been asked. How do we relate to the companies that were complicit? How do we relate to the scientific evidence that the Nazi regime produced?

But the question that is far closer to MIT relates to the technological process that is happening here on campus. What responsibilities do the students, the faculty, and the institute have to ensure that the technologies being developed here are used for ethical purposes? Until what point can we claim technological neutrality? What are the other questions we need to be asking now?

People who want to take part in the conversation – or just see how those dozen or so concepts get their due in 60 minutes – are invited. The free, public talk takes place from noon to 1 p.m. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Building W1, also known as Fariborz Maseeh Hall, in the Flowers Dining Room at 305 Memorial Drive.