Critical Thinking is Useless
Just don't say we teach Critical Thinking. That's too cheap, too small, and basically useless. Here is why.
1. Asking for a discussion is not having this discussion.
Beware of people who talk about things instead of doing them. Critical thinking is no exception. Those who keep insisting how important it is to keep an open mind, to think outside the box, to do critical thinking - they rarely do it. We need to have a discussion about AI? Yes, then have something to say about it; instead of talking about talking about it and therefore not talking about it. Also, if you really believed in being critical, and in thinking, you would be more sceptical about catchphrases.
2. Exchanging opinions about good and bad does not change anyone, or make anyone grow.
This is why the classic ethics of technology course often has so little effect. If you work on self-driving cars, facial recognition, or social network plugins, of course you should better think of the risks, and to what end others will use what you build. But that's barely the beginning. And it always ends at "Now we have new technology X. It brings great benefits, but also includes these and those bad effects and risks. But if we are careful about how we use technology X, it can be very good for humanity". This is always true. And it's never enough.
If you want to judge whether your app idea is a good idea, then you need to not just estimate its immediate effect on its consumers, and whether it makes them happy. Rather you could ask yourself what happiness is (and why people keep mistaking it for identical with pleasure), or what you think human beings are like, and should be like. If you learn about how complex human psychology is, or how intricate current political power structures and economic currents are, or if you study how things and ideas you take for granted (like freedom, or amusement, or the doctrine of finding out “who you really are”..) were not normal in other times or parts of the world — then, when you return to your project, you may look at it (and yourself) with different eyes. This is why I keep insisting, that one can learn more about ethics of technology from reading ancient Indian texts, studying the sociology of privilege, playing theatre, or talking to a homeless person, than by just expressing and repeating the moral intuitions we have had all along.
3. Critical Thinking is for hobbyists.
Of course you should do a risk analysis and worry about the consequences of your actions (and products). But such criticisms mostly remain abstract. And because risks and bad effects remain abstract, talking about them remains nicely at the coffee table. When we "do critical thinking", we are not in our projects, our jobs, our lives, but in carefully designed safe spaces, whose event horizon no light ever escapes. Judging stuff that they have no control about is what all people do as an after-work pastime. Such judgement comes from an external, god's-eye perspective. "One should do x" is not "I will do x". (and be that only because if it were we would understand that if we want to act we actually need to do y instead of x). A little session of Critical Thinking here and there does not have to be a mere fig leaf. But it is functionally equivalent to one more often than we (critically) think.
4. Critical Thinking does not create.
Criticism is negative, and this kind of negativity is, as Hegel called it, unlimited: It just says what should not be, but it leaves indiscriminately open what could or should be done. Criticism does not have to engage positively with the world, which is discriminate and has a lot more aspects to it than the one singled out and criticised. But it's those additional aspects that have to be taken into account when we work on a solution. Which then again, can probably be criticised again - as rightly as conveniently.
And the result of all this?
Let's do both more and less. More work, less posturing. Let's talk less emptily about criticising and having dialogues, and instead let's create and actually have these dialogues. And of course the only thing worse than incessantly claiming how important critical thinking is, is not to do that. But we don't JUST teach critical thinking. We teach the humanities. We teach liberal arts for a technological era. And critique, as Kant called it, is more than just criticising. A thorough critique includes analysis and diagnosis (and a lot of work). And even when we have done that work, we have barely begun to make a difference.