Computer Science PhD Student Chosen for FASPE Ethics Fellowship

Departments: Computer Science

Liam Merz Hoffmeister, a PhD student in Computer Science,is one of 14 design & technology students chosen for the 2024 Design & Technology (D&T) Program of the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE).

Now in its fourteenth year of operation, FASPE annually grants 80-90 Fellowships to graduate students and early-career professionals in the fields of Business, Design & Technology, Journalism, Law, Medicine, and Seminary. Fellows participate in a two-week program in Germany and Poland, which uses the conduct of professionals in Nazi-occupied Europe as an initial framework for approaching ethical responsibility in the professions today.

The FASPE curriculum takes advantage of the power of place with daily seminars and dialogue at sites of historic importance, often specific to their profession. The experience of the D&T Fellows is enhanced by traveling alongside the Business and Law fellows, who – in formal and informal settings – consider together how ethical constructs and norms in their respective professions align and differ.

“By educating students about the causes of the Holocaust and the power of their chosen professions, FASPE seeks to instill a sense of professional responsibility for the ethical and moral choices that the Fellows will make in their careers and in their professional relationships,” said David Goldman, FASPE’s Chairman.

As a PhD student in Computer Science, Merz Hoffmeister research is focused on robotics, building on a foundation in Computer Science, Physics, and Mathematics from the University of Colorado Boulder. His research interests include task and motion planning for tool use, online planning and plan adaptation under uncertainty, and emergency situation planning. Merz Hoffmeister has contributed to developing a real-time robotics framework for healthcare, leveraging Large Language Models for action optimization. He has also worked on projects for robotic learning via verbal feedback and torque-aware trajectory planning, demonstrating a commitment to practical and theoretical advancements in robotics.

Thinking ahead to the upcoming fellowship trip, Merz Hoffmeister says, “My keen interest in the ethical implications of robotics, shaped by personal and community experiences with job insecurity and automation's broader impacts, draws me to FASPE. I see acceptance into the program as crucial for deepening my understanding of balancing technological innovation with ethical responsibility, and for guiding and emphasizing my commitment to develop robotics that consider societal impacts and ensure equitable technological progress.”

Merz Hoffmeister joins a diverse group of 84 FASPE fellows across all six programs who were chosen through a competitive process that drew applicants from across the U.S. and the world. FASPE covers all program costs, including travel, food and lodging.

Each year, Fellowship cohorts are led by FASPE professionals; two Faculty members (scholars and/or practitioners), and partners on the ground in Germany and Poland. The D&T Program will be led by Mary Gray, Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, and Lindsey Cameron, Assistant Professor of Management, at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

FASPE maintains long-term relationships with its fellows to sustain a commitment to ethical behavior and to provide a forum for continued dialogue. To date, FASPE has over 830 alumni.